Last spring, representatives from UC Davis made 20 trips to China to encourage admitted students to accept their offer to study in the United States.
The director of admissions at the University of California, Santa Cruz met one young man in New Delhi, India, who had traveled hundreds of miles to make the case that he belonged at the coastal university thousands of miles from his home.
Overseas students interested in UC Riverside can request a Skype appointment with one of six international admissions counselors.
Though UC Merced did no international recruiting for the fall, according to admissions staff, there is a desire to do so in coming years.
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Pushed to look for alternative sources of revenue amid the deep budget cuts of the economic recession, schools in the University of California system increasingly are recruiting nonresident applicants, who likely will make up a fifth of all freshmen for fall 2014.
Even as state funding has begun to recover, campuses rely on substantial additional fees paid by out-of-state and international students who have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars for the university system in recent years.
Despite criticisms from some parents and politicians, admissions officers at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses defend the shift as a mutually beneficial strategy, allowing them to broaden the undergraduate population with diverse perspectives and subsidize more seats for California students.
Encarnacion Ruiz, who directs undergraduate admissions at UC Merced, said although the university’s focus remains on students from within the state, it is interested in adding students from out of state and other countries. The diversity is beneficial to all students, he stressed.
“People can be exposed to different cultures and people from different parts of the world,” he said. “So we welcome that.”
The University of California has always had students from outside the state, especially at its flagship campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles.
But their share has grown rapidly following the recession. In 2010, the UC Board of Regents issued a report recommending that the university increase its proportion of nonresident students, who pay an additional $22,878 annually on top of $12,192 in tuition.
That directive spurred a variety of responses at the nine campuses, which individually manage their enrollment strategies. Some jumped enthusiastically into expanding their nonresident student populations, and others took a more limited approach.
Even schools with a tiny number of students from outside California, however, are talking about growing that presence.
“The conversation was propelled by the declining budget situation in California, but this is a win-win situation,” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at UCLA. “The added value is that students from different geographies have always contributed richly to the classroom environment.”
Nonresident students may make up about 13 percent of UC undergraduates this year, according to Nathan Brostrom, UC’s executive vice president for business operations, up from 4 percent a decade ago. The number will likely climb as international and out-of-state students become a growing share of freshman classes.
Data about statements of intent to register released in July suggest that this fall’s incoming class could have a record 20.2 percent nonresidents.
That’s still less than other top public universities, such as the University of Michigan, where more than 40 percent of students are from outside the state. But the move has raised concerns that Californians are being pushed out of the UC system.
From 2010 to 2013, overall freshman enrollment of California students at UC campuses increased slightly, to 34,002 from 32,807. Enrollment varied at individual campuses from year to year, however, and five schools had fewer resident freshmen last year than in 2007. Most notably, Berkeley had almost 18 percent fewer.
“California students are being turned away,” said Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group in San Jose. It sends “the message that the university is less available to Californians,” he said, which could undermine UC’s long-term prospects of getting more state financial support.
The trend worries parents such as Patricia Preston of Orangevale.
Her daughter applied to mechanical engineering programs at Davis, Irvine, Santa Barbara and Riverside last year, and was not accepted to any of them, despite a 4.1 weighted grade point average and a score of about 2000 out of 2400 on the SAT. She’s headed to Northwestern University in the fall.
“That’s a high-caliber candidate,” Preston said. “Maybe they’re not perfect, but that’s not somebody we would say is not qualified for those programs.”
She said the university is betraying its mission by limiting opportunities for California students, especially in the in-demand technical fields that draw the most overseas students.
“We created those institutes, we built the infrastructure for it,” she said. Now they’re “training somebody else’s workforce that is not going to stay and benefit California.”
Marguerite Roza, a researcher at the Center on Reinventing Public Education in Washington, D.C., who studied similar efforts at the University of Washington, said the approach prioritizes nonresidents over in-state students, some of whom might be willing to pay higher tuition for a slot.
Out-of-state and international students are “not taking a subsidized spot, but they are taking a spot at the university,” she said. “If their objective is to maximize the number of in-state students that they want to serve, then there are alternatives they should be considering.”
She suggested tiered tuition as a possibility, in which families willing to pay the equivalent of nonresident fees could do so.
University officials say their alternative is cutting back overall enrollment to match state budget cuts. General fund support for UC is still about $450 million less than it was before the recession, though tuition rates nearly doubled in that time. State funding rose $267 million over the past two years, and will continue to increase for the next two years, in conjunction with a tuition freeze.
Out-of-state and international students are a financially self-sustaining group, officials say, whose tuition supplements about 9,000 resident students not funded by the state. Campuses say they also used the extra funding to save programs that otherwise would have been scaled back or cut, such as tutoring, academic advising and student wellness.
“What’s really important to note here, though, is one of the things nonresident enrollment enabled our campuses to do is to maintain their California enrollment,” Brostrom said during a presentation on university finances at the July regents meeting.
“Through the fiscal crisis, we did not cut the number of California resident students,” he added. “We were able to maintain, and even in certain instances, increase them.”
Nonresident fees generated an estimated $400 million from undergraduates across the UC system last year alone. Berkeley and UCLA, with more than 5,000 nonresident undergraduates each, were the top beneficiaries. Both brought in more than $100 million, a significant boost to their multibillion-dollar budgets.
Their out-of-state recruitment costs for fall 2014 were relatively small by comparison: an estimated $260,000 at Berkeley and about $258,000 at UCLA, primarily spent on travel.
UC Merced spent even less, at almost $20,000, and generated $178,000 in nonresident tuition. The university did not recruit internationally, though the school has become increasingly more popular with a larger presence on the Internet.
UC Merced’s Ruiz said the school recruited in Hawaii, Washington and Arizona last year. It has also participated in online college fairs, which are open to students anywhere who have Internet access. About 4 percent of the admissions are nonresidents.
Schools whose names have international cachet find it somewhat easier to recruit. Berkeley and UCLA are drawing tens of thousands of applications each year from out-of-state students who are interested in attending, so they can focus their efforts on strengthening their applicant pool.
“As we admit in this increasingly selective space, the competition for those students is intense,” said Amy Jarich, director of undergraduate admissions for UC Berkeley. “I want to be able to introduce UC Berkeley early on, because once I’ve admitted a student, it might be too late at that point to convince them to come.”
With the potential for a big return on investment, smaller campuses are mounting their own efforts to establish a stronger foothold outside the state. UC Riverside began its push three years ago, spending about $900,000 a year on recruitment. Last year, the undergraduate fees brought in almost $9 million, double the amount two years before.
Merced Sun-Star reporter Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.