Tuesday, May 13, 2014

UC Bait and Switch Part Two

In my last post, I discussed how UC was fulfilling its obligation to accept every eligible Californian student by admitting them to Merced instead of Berkeley and UCLA. I also pointed out that some campuses are cashing in on the new policy that allows schools to keep all of the tuition dollars they generate.  The end result of this system is that some campuses have a huge incentive to accept a high number of non-resident and international students and reject a great number of students from California.
During recent meetings with state officials, I warned that we will see a backlash from Californian residents who feel that their deserving children are being shut out of an institution the parents have helped to support, and in fact, there has been a constant stream of editorials and letters voicing this concern.  In one recent article, we are told the following:   “As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years. Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier.”
When I presented these statistics to state officials, I was told that the implicit arrangement was that UC had to maintain its current number of in-state students even though the governor has removed enrollment targets from his recent budgets. However, recent statistics so that it is unclear if this deal is being upheld: “The UC system enrolled about 700 more California freshmen in 2013 than in 2009, a 2 percent increase, and nearly 5,000 more freshmen from other states and countries -- a 273 percent increase. About 57 percent of the added spots went to international students, and 30 percent to students from other states, while about 12 percent went to Californians. UC Berkeley enrolled 800 fewer California freshmen this academic year than in 2009, but it accepted about 580 more from other states and about 500 more from other countries.” Although we still do not know about actual enrollments, it should be clear that UC has changed its admission priorities.
Some will argue that the increase in high-paying non-resident and international students is the price the state should pay for its divestment in higher education, and while this is partially true, we have ask how is this change in the student body going to affect the campuses.  In particular, as UC accepts more non-resident students, it brings in more students who come from wealthy families.  According to the book, Paying for the Party, one effect of state schools increasing their number of wealthy out-of-state students is that the entire campus culture is reshaped by class hierarchies.  In this type of transition, all students have to decide if they want to pursue the party pathway controlled mostly by rich students or focus on the mobility and professional pathways that are still influenced by wealth and  social sorting.  Moreover, in order to attract these out-of-state wealthy students, schools have to feed the party pathway by providing easy majors and a vast array of expensive facilities and activities. 
The reputation of some universities as party schools then is not an unfortunate side-effect of contemporary college life; rather, it is in part a response to decreased state funds and the need for public universities to attract wealthy non-resident students.  Furthermore, universities have convinced themselves that it is easier to please students outside of the classroom than inside, and so they have an incentive to recruit wealthy out-of-state students who are attracted by a school’s reputation for partying and spending on extracurricular activities.  
Another side effect of catering to wealthy non-resident students is that all of the students have to pay more and often go into debt to finance the increased costs of housing, dining, and extracurricular activities.  An increase in rich non-resident students may also help to fuel the need for expensive athletic programs and a problematic Greek system, which enhances issues related to binge drinking and sexual assault.   
The irony is that in order to compete for more wealthy non-resident students, campuses have to increase their spending on non-instructional activities in order to turn their schools into country clubs.  The end result is that instruction and learning become a low priority, and thus institutions of higher education are no longer mainly about education; rather, they become systems to enhance wealth and class inequality.  


  1. There's much to like here, but it's ironic to disparage UC Merced in the same post that's based on Paying for the Party, since it's a UC Merced sociologist, Laura Hamilton, who wrote that book.At any rate, UC Merced can't grow its physical capacity fast enough to keep up with rising student demand (another causality of defunding), so we're not going to be the saviors of the master plan any more than any other campus is.

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