The percentage of California high school graduates entering the state’s public higher education has fallen 20 percent in the last five years, shows a recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
The report examined the impact of state disinvestment in higher education on the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in University of California (UC), California State University (CSU) and community colleges. It stated that enrollment rates at UC and CSU have fallen from 22 percent of high school graduates in 2007 to 18 percent in 2010.
The number of students enrolling, unaccounted for by slight increases in community college enrollment, fails to keep up with growing demands for spots in both systems.
“For the past eight years, we have had record high numbers of applicants,” said Dianne Klein, media specialist at the UC Office of the President, in an e-mail. “The demand for a UC education is enormous. But because of the state’s disinvestment, we don’t have the funds to fulfill that demand. This is yet another sad validation of the costs, in real terms, of the state disinvestment in public education.”
Hans Johnson, author of the report, is a policy fellow Donald Bren Foundation, which funded the research. Johnson reiterated that because of state disinvestment, the UC has been forced to severely limit enrollment through enrollment caps and deferral, in which qualified applicants who aren’t admitted to their prime-choice UC are granted admission to UC Merced.
“UC Merced is the only campus still taking students from the deferral pool, and UC knows that the large majority of students that did not choose to apply to UC Merced but were then given admission will not attend,” Johnson said.
Unlike the UC’s deferral process, CSU, originally not an exclusive system, limits enrollment by declaring campuses impacted, then limiting the number of out-of-area students admitted.
“Each campus has a local service area except Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,” said CSU media relations specialist Erik Fallis. “Because we tend to have place-bound students, we give preference to local applicants. Students from outside that area will have to meet a higher bar.”
The result of these enrollment caps is that while demand soars, fewer students are able to enroll. This result is especially prevalent in highly prepared high school graduates, where enrollment rates have fallen from 67 to 55 percent, stated the report.
If these trends continue, PPIC projected that California will fall one million college graduates short of economic demand by 2025.
“Now is the time to increase educational opportunity for students in California, to fill the jobs of the future and ensure that our state remains on the forefront of innovation and opportunity,” Klein said in the e-mail. “California needs to immediately reinvest in public higher education.”
Johnson also expressed that state reinvestment is the most obvious solution, but not necessarily the most attainable.
“Given the fiscal realities, ongoing budget crises and uncertainty about whether voters will be willing to increase taxes to pay for K-12 as well as higher education, it’s not clear that money will be available anytime soon,” Johnson said. “In absence of that money, I think it’s important to try to figure out ways to improve efficiencies.”
According to Johnson, improving efficiencies will not be enough because reversing enrollment trends will still come down to general fund support from the state.
“Those efforts are nibbling at the edges: The major problem is the decline in state support for public education,” Johnson said.
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