An Out-of-State Window of Opportunity

Zachary Watson/Guardian

It’s true: Desperate times call for desperate measures. That’s why, next year, we’ll be paying more for a cheapened education, and why we won’t be able to cram at Geisel past midnight to make up for it.

But the latest desperate proposal from the Committee on Admissions doesn’t involve sacrificing a seat in lecture, nor a late-night study session — in fact, it could possibly soften some of the cutbacks.

Though committee member and Vice Chancellor of Admissions Mae Brown is tight-lipped about the idea (which is still in its early stages), there’s word from A.S. Campuswide Senator Tobias Haglund, who also serves on the committee, that the pipeline proposal would ease up on admissions qualifications for out-of-state students as a way to boost tuition intake.

We know that the purpose of the UC system has always been, first and foremost, to provide an affordable, world-class education to California residents, but this has the possibility — if operating under strict regulation — to do more help than hurt. If letting in a few more nonresidents can put even the slightest dent in our campus’s estimated $80-billion deficit, this board thinks it’s at least worth testing out for a year — with a few stipulations.

Most importantly, we don’t support admitting more nonresidents if it means further reduction of in-state enrollment. This fall, the university already had to slice freshman enrollment by 2,300 students — and more cuts are in the cards for 2010-11. (Granted, if the UC Office of the President is true to its word, the damage won’t be quite as severe as last year’s — though we’ll believe that when we finally get off the waitlist next Fall Quarter).

Gaping deficit or not, the university is still a state institution — one that can’t justify shutting out in-state applicants just to turn a profit. Resident applicants are on the rise — especially transfer students, whose applications are up 17 percent over last year. The spare change we’d collect from more out-of-staters (who pay an estimated $21,191 in tuition alone this year) means nothing if we’re letting in fewer residents, seeing as their education is the entire reason for the university’s existence in the first place.

We also have to recognize that the committee might be spending time on a plan that could make an almost insignificant difference. Currently, the admissions department is only slightly stingier with its “Congratulations” letters to out-of-state applicants than their in-state counterparts anyway. This year, the 33-percent acceptance rate for out-of-state applicants was only 4 percent lower than it was for California residents. In addition, based on numbers from the last few years, Haglund estimated that only about 13 percent of out-of-state students admitted next fall will even choose to come here — as opposed to 21.5 percent of residents. Then there’s the reality that as fees rise and class sizes swell, our sunny Triton banner might not look quite as attractive outside state limits anymore.

But there’s nothing to lose, as long as in-state enrollment isn’t cut more than it already would have been. More out-of-staters could certainly have visible effects in our already-stuffed lecture halls and dorm rooms. While Housing, Dining and Hospitality Services may have an impressive track record for squeezing three bunks into dorms intended for two, increasing the proportion of out-of-state students could prove hazardous with our limited housing options. Their extra fees would have to be funneled specifically toward making extra space, physically and academically. Less stringent major requirements could ensure that no one gets squeezed out of the system.

The reason for enrollment slashes in the first place is inadequate state funding, so hosting a few more non-Californians — who don’t use a dime of taxpayers’ money — wouldn’t be any strain on the pool of state funds.

These concerns are less urgent than they are ideological. As it stands, only 679 of our 23,000-strong student body (a scant 3 percent) aren’t from the Golden State — outnumbered even by our 974 foreign exchange students. Even if the admissions department does make this proposal a reality, we certainly can’t count on a fresh crop of out-of-staters to be our sole saving grace — but until the budget’s back on stable footing, there’s no harm in trying.

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