UC limited in boost­ing en­roll­ment

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By David Lauter david.lauter@la­times.com

WASH­ING­TON — Even if the state Leg­is­la­ture pro­vides money for ad­di­tional en­roll­ment, the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem prob­a­bly will be able to add only a few hun­dred ex­tra stu­dents this fall, UC Pres­i­dent Janet Napoli­tano said Fri­day.

“We’d like to add 10,000 more” to the sys­temwide en­roll­ment of 180,000, Napoli­tano said in an in­ter­view with re­porters and ed­i­tors in The Times’ Wash­ing­ton bureau. Leg­isla­tive lead­ers are de­bat­ing how much money to add to the state bud­get to ex­pand UC en­roll­ment, but are un­likely to go that far, she added, say­ing: “They may go half­way.”

Even if the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proves a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease, the full ef­fect would not be felt un­til the class that en­ters col­lege in the fall of 2016, Napoli­tano said. “We’re late in the process” to be adding stu­dents this year, she said, not­ing that Cal­i­for­nia’s bud­get sched­ule and the uni­ver­sity’s ap­pli­ca­tion cy­cle don’t mesh well.

“Real­is­ti­cally, for this fall,” the UC sys­tem would be able to add 500 to 600 stu­dents, who would be taken off cam­pus wait lists, she said.

Napoli­tano reached an agree­ment last month with Gov. Jerry Brown to in­crease state aid to the uni­ver­sity sys­tem in re­turn for UC’s prom­ise to freeze in-state tu­ition for two years. As part of that agree­ment, the is­sue of how much to ex­pand en­roll­ment was left to the Leg­is­la­ture.

One goal of an ex­pan­sion would be to keep up with the rapid growth of the state’s Latino pop­u­la­tion, Napoli­tano said. Lati­nos are the sec­ond-largest eth­nic group in the sys­tem, but their share of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion lags be­hind the grow­ing num­ber of uni­ver­sity-el­i­gi­ble Latino high school stu­dents.

“The num­bers aren’t where we’d want them to be, but they’re grow­ing,” she said.

The sit­u­a­tion is worse with African Amer­i­can stu­dents, whose num­bers have been stuck at roughly 3% of the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion for years.

“We’re do­ing a lot” to try to iden­tify promis­ing African Amer­i­can high school stu­dents, make sure they are tak­ing the proper cour­ses to meet UC en­trance re­quire­ments and en­cour­age them to ap­ply, Napoli­tano said.

“We’re the public uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia; we’re paid for by all the public,” she said. While uni­ver­sity en­roll­ment needn’t be strictly pro­por­tional to the state’s pop­u­la­tion, it should ref lect Cal­i­for­nia’s di­ver­sity, she said.

But Napoli­tano said that the sys­tem faces sev­eral hur­dles in en­rolling African Amer­i­can stu­dents. She cited com­pe­ti­tion from pri­vate col­leges for the best high school grad­u­ates and a worry — un­jus­ti­fied, she in­sisted — that some po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants have about feel­ing iso­lated on cam­puses with small African Amer­i­can en­roll­ments.

Na­tion­ally, the num­ber of black stu­dents at­tend­ing col­lege has stopped grow­ing and may even be de­clin­ing in some ar­eas, Napoli­tano said, adding “that trend line should bother all of us.”

Across the coun­try, public uni­ver­si­ties have felt the im­pact of years of cuts in state as­sis­tance, which has led to greater bur­dens on stu­dents and their fam­i­lies.

“It’s not that the cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion has gone up” at public uni­ver­si­ties, she said. “It’s that the public share of that cost has gone down.”

The re­sult has been a big in­crease in tu­ition and stu­dent debt and public uni­ver­si­ties that in­creas­ingly have been op­er­at­ing more like pri­vate col­leges, seek­ing funds from alumni and other sources. The debt bur­den for most UC un­der­grad­u­ates has re­mained af­ford­able, she said, not­ing that nearly half grad­u­ate debt free and the other half have debts that av­er­age $20,000.

The uni­ver­sity is “very aware” of the need to en­sure that stu­dents don’t leave school with “hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in debt,” she said, not­ing that “$20,000 is the cost of a car,” but a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion “doesn’t de­pre­ci­ate the mo­ment you drive it off the lot.”

With an econ­omy that in­creas­ingly de­mands high skills, “it’s ob­vi­ous that we need ed­u­ca­tion be­yond high school” to re­main ac­ces­si­ble to stu­dents, she said.

“The fed­eral gov­ern­ment can and should do more” to help stu­dents af­ford col­lege, she added. “It’s a mat­ter of pri­or­i­ties.”

Michael Reynolds EPA

UC PRES­I­DENT Janet Napoli­tano says that even if fund­ing is in­creased,the ef­fect won't be felt till 2016.

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