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Cal State Long Beach students walk across the campus during the fall semester.

California’s public universities can no longer accommodate the increasing number of college-ready students because the state has failed to invest the needed resources in higher education, according to a report released today.

The report, “Access Denied: Rising Selectivity at California’s Public Universities,” found that the University of California and California State University systems are now too small to serve the state’s growing population, forcing campuses to turn away a large number of eligible applicants.

“At a time when an educated workforce is crucial for the California economy, is it fair that it is more difficult for today’s generation of Californians to enroll directly in a four-year university after high school than it was for previous generations?” asks the report published by Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on higher education issues.

Key findings include:

  • The gap between the number of Californians applying to the UC and CSU systems and those who have been accepted has doubled since 1996.
  • To be admitted to UC, students need near perfect grades and SAT or ACT scores to get in, something that was not expected of applicants in previous generations. Freshman students admitted to six of nine UC campuses had an average GPA of 4.0.
  • Six of 23 CSU campuses are fully impacted, meaning they have more applications from eligible students across all majors than they can accommodate. As a result, these campuses have significantly raised admissions standards for all applicants.
  • Between 2009 and 2014, CSU campuses turned away 139,697 eligible students.
  • California ranks 49th nationally in the percentage of high school graduates who go on to enroll at four-year universities.

The report’s release coincides with today’s application deadline for fall 2016 admission to UC and CSU campuses. CSU expects to receive close to 800,000 applications for admission for next fall, while UC anticipates nearly 200,000.

For fall 2015, CSU admitted about three-quarters of all applicants, while UC admitted just over half.

Large-scale budget cuts prompted by the recession are the primary reason for the decrease in access, the report said.

Between 2006 and 2014, each system lost $1 billion in state funding, which forced campuses to slash enrollment, reduce staff, raise tuition, increase class sizes and cut services.

The report recommends that the governor and lawmakers reprioritize funding for higher education to increase access for a wider range of Californians. Each system should also cap the number of out-of-state and international students, especially at the most popular campuses, and offer viable alternatives to qualified students who were turned away, including referrals to other public universities that may have space.

These solutions could help California create a vision for higher education that’s aligned with the 21st century, the report said. “This vision includes ensuring that college opportunity and success are equally available to all Californians across the diversity of race/ethnicity, income status, and regions,” the report said.


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  1. LEONARD WAKS 10 months ago10 months ago

    The report appears to presuppose that American higher education remains the institution that it was in the second half of the twentieth century. It is not. The completion of the globalization of the world economy means that the transnational firms based in the large nation states have been replaced by new fully global firms, with design, manufacture, service and marketing all widely distributed. The economic elites simply do not need nearly as big an educated … Read More

    The report appears to presuppose that American higher education remains the institution that it was in the second half of the twentieth century. It is not. The completion of the globalization of the world economy means that the transnational firms based in the large nation states have been replaced by new fully global firms, with design, manufacture, service and marketing all widely distributed. The economic elites simply do not need nearly as big an educated workforce as they did when all command and control, and most design and marketing functions, were in host countries. As these functions move into localized centers around the world, firms are finding that the secondary and tertiary educational infrastructures are weak. Instead of building these up, new forms of post-elementary education are evolving. Certificate and micro diplomas, based on online programs and MOOCs are standing in for school diplomas and degrees. In the developed world, new micro-degree and certificate programs, such as Udacity nano-degrees, are on the rise for technical and commercial jobs. Firms are investing in these because they provide a narrow education at a low cost, and hence the wage level for the jobs can be reduced.

    To get the really advantageous jobs in the current economy, a college degree no longer is sufficient. One needs, at the least, a degree in a daunting major from a competitive university. Thus the children of the middle class are rushing to apply to such schools, which are grossly underfunded. Many fewer can thus be admitted.

    It is unlikely that the economic elites, and their political representatives, can be pushed to open serious university education to more people at an affordable rate. The situation in Wisconsin is a good example, as the state has always been proud of its great university, but has elected – and re-elected – a governor out to slash its budget.

    Bottom line: a new higher education institution is forming due to structural changes in the macro-economy. The transition will be very rocky. Instead of concentrating energies on salvaging the older institution, those seeking to build a more just social order might devote considerable attention to shaping the new institution that is evolving.

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