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‘Super disappointed’: Lawmakers want UC to enroll more Californians sooner

Enrollment is down at the University of California and the Cal State, which has frustrated lawmakers who gave both systems more money.
Credit: Raquel Natalicchio
Students walk through the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2022. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA, USA — This story was originally published by CalMatters.

One word, uttered under breath by a California lawmaker, captured a sentiment, at times boiling over into anger, among legislators struggling to get more California students into the University of California.

What Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, found frustrating Tuesday was the UC’s seeming refusal to adopt the same systemwide guaranteed admissions policy for transfer students that the California State University has. But it was one of several expressions of legislative aggravation over the UC’s — and to a lesser degree, the Cal State’s — struggles to educate more Californians during an Assembly budget subcommittee on education hearing.

There’s an emotional and fiscal component to lawmakers’ disappointment. As chairperson of the subcommittee, McCarty frequently references parents telling him about their children who graduate high school with GPAs above 4.0 but aren’t accepted to a UC of their choice. To try and get more Californians into the vaunted public university system, the Legislature has recently given or promised the UC:

From all that, the Legislative Analyst’s Office calculated UC should enroll the equivalent of 203,500 California students in 2023-24. But UC’s projections show it’ll only educate 199,800 — about 4,000 short. 

And for 2022-23, the UC estimates it’ll enroll the equivalent of about 300 fewer California residents than it did in 2021-22.

Now, lawmakers are asking why the UC can publish press releases about the large volume of students who apply each year and yet cannot find enough slots for all those applicants — especially at the most selective campuses, UC Berkeley and UCLA.

“You just sound out of touch with, you know, the dreams and aspirations of kids who are trying to go to a dream school,” said Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance, to the UC official taking the heat at Tuesday’s hearing, Seija Virtanen, associate director of state budget relations.

Grow and trust

The UC wants to enroll more students — and technically has. Complicating the debate over enrollment is that the state’s funding formula looks at full-time equivalent California residents. That’s different from what the layperson thinks of enrollment: headcount or the number of people taking classes. The UC’s headcount of California undergraduates grew this year, but the full-time equivalent enrollment dropped because those students are taking slightly fewer class units per term.

UC has a plan it shared with the committee: encourage more students to take summer school and add more than 4,000 new full-time equivalent California undergraduates a year through 2026-27. That would add 17,300 full-time equivalent California undergrads, about 4,000 more than what lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom wanted from UC.

The analyst’s office recommended that the 2023-24 state budget — due in late June — be cut between roughly $9 million and $60 million from UC for projecting it’ll miss its enrollment targets this year and next. Lawmakers Tuesday didn’t seem ready to do so, but they notified the UC.

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