Monday, September 28, 2015




          The question of who the University of California will be serving when it reaches the third decade of this 21st Century remains one the elite system’s administrators year after year refuse to confront.

          Will UC and its 10 campuses belong primarily to the California students they were built to serve? Or will they become the de facto property of wealthy out-of-state and foreign parents and governments eager to send their children to what has ranked for 75 years as the world’s leading public university system?

    One thing for sure, UC today is more dependent than ever on the $24,700 extra each out-of-state student pays in tuition and fees above what any in-state resident pays. Another thing for certain: California high school graduates have become less and less welcome over the last 15 years as the state’s politicians reduced the flow of tax money to the university.

          To maintain academic standards and retain most of the faculty who have won its 51 Nobel prizes, UC needs big money. Hence the impulse to replace California tax dollars with out-of-state and foreign student tuition and fees.

          How strong is that impulse today? Final university enrollment figures for this fall are not yet official, but last spring, fully 45 percent of admission offers at UC Berkeley went to non-Californians. Out-of-staters got 42 percent of admission offers from UCLA, 39 percent at UC San Diego and 35 percent at UC Davis, to name some of the system’s most-desired campuses. It’s not yet certain how many took up those offers.

          But the result is that more and more California parents and kids are coming to believe that what was supposed to be their university has gotten beyond reach of most. It’s not just the push for out-of-state tuition money, but also the increases for in-state tuition and fees, which tripled in the last 12 years to $9,139 this fall. Costs of books, room and board are added to that.

          Yes, UC offers plenty of scholarships to California kids, but full rides are rare for anyone who can’t dunk a basketball or tackle a swift 220-pound running back. So UC today is almost as expensive for in-state residents as top private colleges were a mere 10 to 15 years ago. Inflation does not account for nearly all of this.

          Recall where UC came from: Back in the early 1960s, the state’s education master plan stipulated that everyone in the top one-eighth of a California high school class would be offered a slot on at least one UC campus.

          That policy has been tweaked a bit over the years, but campus officials like to point out that “UC has not reduced the number of Californians it admits.” True, anyone in the top 9 percent of a California high school class today will be admitted, but many are offered slots on low-demand campuses like Riverside and Merced, both smog- and heat-ridden locales where few out-of-staters want to spend several years. Two years ago, Merced had just 1.2 per cent non-Californians, Riverside 6.9 percent.

          The logic also ends when you consider there are many more Californians today than earlier, so admitting roughly the same number as 20 years ago means thousands of excellent, deserving students will be left out.

          The influx of foreign students that’s a big part of this picture has had other effects, both positive and negative. It certainly increased diversity on the most popular campuses. But some critics also say it has helped fuel a documentable rise of corrosive anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric on campus, both from students and faculty.

          Another effect of high tuition and out-of-state enrollment is a greater emphasis on attending much-more-economical community colleges, from which thousands transfer to UC each year.

          The bottom line: It’s no wonder that for many parents of California high schoolers, the biggest worry today is not drought or home prices or the possible onslaught of floods this winter, but whether their children will be able to attend the elite universities which once were a matter of course for the best students.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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