Rising tensions and hidden agendas aren’t just parts of the plot of Westwood’s most recently premiered action movie.
Instead, it’s the reality of its resident university’s admissions policy.
A recent study found that within the next decade, the University of California will be turning away over 100,000 viable candidates due to a lack of space on its campuses. UCLA has proposed lowering enrollment rates, but continues to boast about its status as the most applied to school in the country.
Westwood is already cramped enough as it is, with apartments holding four people in one bedroom and dorms on the Hill overflowing. As new buildings are being constructed during the school year, stress ball and earplug giveaways are not much consolation for 7 a.m. construction.
There is little space in Westwood to expand housing for students in order to accommodate rising application rates. UCLA has publicly announced its intention to cap enrollment rates, so it would be hypocritical to continue using application rates as a marketing scheme.
UCLA needs to focus on students who are already here – that is, the ones who are paying tuition and remain unhappy with their money’s worth. And while UCLA hardly ever wants to turn down a profitable opportunity, that means shifting its priorities away from marketing toward out-of-state and international student recruitment. Begging students to apply just to pocket their application fees, while knowing there’s no space for them, is about as far from a public institution as the UC could get.
And for students already enrolled, valuable space in classrooms and dorms is a luxury that even thousands of dollars can’t afford.
The push in the UC system to raise enrollment rates comes as no surprise – more students means more tuition and housing money.
In 1998, 87% of the UCLA undergraduate population were in-state residents and the going acceptance rate at the time was 33%. By 2018, 63% of the admitted UCLA class were in-state residents and only 14% of total applicants were accepted, despite it being the second-largest admitted class ever.
And while this means increased opportunities for out-of-state and international students to get into a UC, it also means that many students who call California home will be unable to do the same at UCLA – not to mention students applying to other UCs.
Paavo Monkkonen, vice chair of Urban Planning and Public Policy, said he believes in expanding current UC campuses in addition to adding new ones.
“When they decide the student population, it’s more about capacity in classrooms,” Monkkonen said. “I’m pretty sure that we have not grown the UC system at the same rate as the population (of California) has grown.”
UCLA’s preferred alternative has been to cram more students on campus, rather than improve the quality of education of those already on campus.
“Currently, the fight to enroll in classes – South Campus classes especially – is insane,” said Brianna Simmons, a fourth-year political science student. “We shouldn’t have to worry about classes filling up because of the influx of students and waiting until next quarter to take a class – we should be able to do so now.”
Even class enrollment has become a commodity, with students paying each other for spots in classes in order to graduate on time.
And as classrooms inch toward capacity, so do students’ living quarters.
Sade Ajayi, a third-year African American studies student, said she was frustrated by the lack of affordable housing and space for students on and around UCLA’s cramped campus.
“Knowing that there’s not actually space to have everyone here is not really fair, and I feel like it’s false advertising by the school,” Ajayi said. “It kind of makes it hard on students to really be successful when there’s no space to actually live in or go to school.”
In the last 20 years, UCLA has transformed life on the Hill, turning the majority of double occupancy rooms into triples and converting small spaces into expensive deluxe dorms. And despite the UCLA undergraduate population increasing since 2010, UCLA isn’t actually stopping that growth – it’s just slowing it.
The proposed enrollment cap made in March would not stop the growth of UCLA, but merely allow an enrollment increase of 1%. While this rate is small, it is still unsustainable. UCLA should halt increasing admission numbers until it has the space to hold them.
Only about 20,000 of the nearly 46,000 students are housed by UCLA, and with a goal of 4,500 added beds by the 2020-2021 school year, UCLA will still be able to house less than half its students.
As the largest UC by student body but the smallest UC by land, UCLA is in a unique position.
To its credit, the university has claimed it is working toward four years of guaranteed housing for all students. However, the last Housing Master Plan stated that a four-year housing guarantee would be implemented by 2014, but deadlines have long passed, with little to show for it. Construction continues across Westwood Village and the Hill, but the noise and air pollution created for current students may be doing more harm than good.
The truth is that small enrollment caps are not enough to make Westwood comfortable for students again. Being one of the most applied-to universities in the country is worthy of pride, but it comes with caveats – and that means UCLA must protect its current students.
So while college admissions and statistics may not be the stuff of action movies, the future of enrollment at UCLA might start to look like an attack on current students – especially if nothing is done.