Auditor Claims UC System Lowered Academic Standards for Nonresidents

The University of California system lowered admissions standards for nonresident applicants during recent years in order to receive more funding from out-of-state tuition, California State Auditor Elaine Howle reported. The March 29 report concludes that the UC system devoted increasing attention to enrolling out-of-state and international students so that campuses could use the higher tuition to offset budget cuts.

To support her claims, Howle points to an 82-percent increase in nonresident enrollment but a 1-percent decrease in resident enrollment between the 2010–2011 and 2014–2015 academic years.

Howle stated that “[The UC system’s] decision to increase the enrollment of nonresidents has made it more difficult for California residents to gain admission to the university” and attributes this to a change in the way nonresident applicants must compare with resident students in order to be admitted. Prior to 2011, the UC system focused on admitting nonresidents whose academic qualifications were at least equivalent to those of the upper half of residents eligible for admission. However, as Howle notes, the UC campuses loosened this admission standard in 2011 so that nonresidents must only “compare favorably” to residents.

According to Howle, almost 16,000 nonresident students whose test scores and GPA were lower than those of the top half of in-state acceptances at the same campuses were admitted over the three years following 2011. Simultaneously, the UC system rejected an increasing number of qualified residents at the campuses of their choice, Howle said.

The change in admission standards for nonresidents exhibits a shift away from enrolling students who can improve the campus atmosphere, in-state Thurgood Marshall College freshman Revati Rashingkar told the UCSD Guardian.

“Lowering the standards for out-of-state and international students means that the school’s focus is more towards getting more tuition money from them than finding people that would contribute to the school’s environment in other ways besides money,” Rashingkar said.

International Marshall freshman Pavaan Gaur noted that the reduction of standards for nonresidents is unfair to California students but also that the higher tuition is important to the schools.

“It is unfair to California students because they are paying the taxes, and that’s why they should have better access to the campuses,” Gaur told the Guardian. “At the same time, considering that the UCs need to profit, I can see how [lowering standards] is working for them.”

However, Gaur takes issue with the way lowering standards portrays international students.

“That is objectifying a person,” Gaur said. “Basically, you are reducing the status of a human into a [monetary] value.”

In response to the report, the UC Office of the President published “Straight Talk on Hot-Button Issues” on Tuesday and a March 8 letter from UC President Janet Napolitano to Howle disputing the auditor’s claims. 

“Unfortunately, the draft report that has been shared with us makes inferences and draws conclusions that are supported neither by the data nor by sound analysis,” Napolitano stated in the letter. “To suggest from the outset that UC decisions regarding admissions were designed to ‘disadvantage Californians,’ as opposed to mitigate the impact of a 33 percent budget cut, is a rush to judgment that is both unfair and unwarranted.”

“Straight Talk” discusses a number of different factors regarding the universities’ funding and enrollment process in its argument against Howle’s report.

According to one section of the report, the UC system admitting an additional 5,000 California undergraduates in the upcoming academic year demonstrates its commitment to resident students. The report also states that there is no set limit to the number of students accepted each year. “Straight Talk” specifies that the number of admissions depends on how many students UC campuses can fund and admitting more nonresidents has no bearing on the number of California students accepted. 

Howle suggested that the UC system should instead have taken actions “to generate savings and revenue internally” to resolve its financial problems, such as reconsidering its increase of employees’ salaries, the amount of money given to the Working Smarter initiative and the distribution of funding between campuses.

Napolitano dismissed such suggestions as unproductive to providing effective change.

“We would have preferred a constructive set of recommendations that could help move the University and the state forward,” Napolitano said in her letter. “We are deeply disappointed at this lost opportunity.”

California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) also responded to the report by issuing a press release saying that the report demonstrates the need for his and Assemblyman Jose Medina’s (D-Riverside) bill, proposed in January, that would cap nonresident enrollment at its current 15.5 percent.