Thousands of high school seniors clicked submit on their University of California applications last week, hoping to convince UCLA they deserve an acceptance letter.
And now they wait.
What they don’t know is that the number of freshman UCLA applicants has grown 104.3% over the past decade, while the number of enrollees has grown just 39.5%. And while that gap inevitably widens, UC applicants will be caught in a game of catch-up.
The College Futures Foundation released a study in October which concluded that by 2030, a lack of space will force University of California and California State University schools to deny about 144,000 qualified applicants per year.
Luckily, UCLA proposed a four-year plan in March to increase undergraduate enrollment by no more than 1%. What it didn’t account for was how it would harm those already systemically underrepresented in the admissions process.
The university should be commended for trying to lower undergraduate enrollment numbers to protect existing students. But while it does, it’s failing to preempt the effects this cap will have on minority students seeking a higher education in years to come. Considering minority students are already institutionally at a disadvantage, UCLA needs to flesh out change that ensures continued equitable admissions.
But it remains to be seen if these measures will be inclusive of underrepresented groups that have long faced low admissions rates at the UC.
And although getting in may be tougher than ever, UCLA promises that diversity will remain intact.
“We are committed to (diversifying the applicant pool) in the hopes that the number of underrepresented students at UCLA will continue to edge up as a proportion of the admitted and enrolled class regardless of admissions targets,” said UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an emailed statement.
While the goal to cap enrollment at 1% is the first of many necessary steps to solve overcrowding, it ignores the larger trajectory of an equitable education.
The number of African American, American Indian and Chicano/Latino UCLA applicants has grown nearly 40% over the last five years. But while the number of disadvantaged students applying has increased, the university has only accepted 6.3% more students from these groups in the same time frame.
Jennie Brand, a sociology and statistics professor whose research focuses on the benefits of college for disadvantaged students, said that despite potential hurdles these students face, minimizing the number of admits isn’t a feasible solution.
“Administrators are scrambling just trying to solve these pressing issues,” Brand said. “But I don’t see it as a long-term strategy of how we’re going to deal with the growing demand (for higher education).”
Brand said the biggest disadvantages minority students face in the college application process are the economic barriers. These students often qualify for application fee waivers and financial aid once admitted, but because full aid is rarely ever granted, many still have to juggle part-time jobs to support family back home.
Kasandra Hernandez, a third-year political science student, said that while programs such as the Academic Advancement Program have historically helped underrepresented students like herself by providing counseling and tutoring, the university’s admission targets for the next four years are concerning for future qualified students.
“(First-generation students) already don’t have help from their parents,” Hernandez said. “And now they’re also facing the issue that they might get rejected just because there’s overcrowding.”
The UC Office of the President spearheaded a multi-year plan in January hoping to help mitigate the issue. The plan emphasizes increased graduation rates and closing graduation gaps for low-income, first generation and underrepresented students.
In response, UCLA created the Degree Attainment and Student Success Task Force, which aims to address those goals by implementing solutions such as offering more summer and online courses to ensure on-time graduation, Vazquez said in the email statement.
But not only do these shortened classes diminish the quality of learning, many don’t have the cash to spare.
While many students struggle to get into classes due to overcrowding, it’s often not feasible for historically disadvantaged students to sacrifice their summers taking classes, as opposed to working.
Brand said the larger issue surrounding overcrowding can also be attributed to the state’s lack of financial support toward investing in these institutions.
“Having minimal increases in the number of campuses in the state of California, alongside steadily increasing tuition for these students, is not a good way to invest in the future,” Brand said. “A lot of this ends up falling on the more disadvantaged students who get set out of the higher education landscape as there are fewer spots.”
For minority students already here, this enrollment cap could be a good thing, with factors such as housing security and course enrollment becoming less competitive. In addition, UCLA’s plan to grow the undergraduate population by no more than 1% might give the state some time to expand its campuses and funnel more money to support minority students.
But in order to create a sustainable admissions system to accommodate for the increasing demand for higher education, the university needs to be considering the implications minority students will face.
Come March, it might be a lack of space – not a lack of merit – that delivers the verdict on prospective UCLA students’ admissions letters.
If so, reading a rejection letter could be worse than any case of senioritis.