More students compete for fewer UC slots

More students have applied to attend a University of California campus next year than any year in UC's history.

The count is preliminary, UC officials said, but will likely amount to a record number of rejection letters sent to high school seniors and aspiring transfer students.

"It looks like there will be fewer open spots than last year," UC spokesman Ricardo Vasquez said.

About 127,000 students applied to attend at least one of UC's nine undergraduate campuses during the fall 2009 term – a 5 percent increase over last year.

During sound economic times, that would be more students than UC campuses have room to admit. Only 77,521 of the 121,005 undergraduates who applied for 2008 – a UC record at the time – were accepted.

But these are not sound economic times for the state's university systems.

UC regents warned in November that they would cut freshman enrollment for 2009 if the state didn't give them additional money. The UC system was already enrolling about 10,000 more students than the state gave them money for.

The outlook for high school seniors and transfers began looking even more dire Wednesday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed significant funding cuts to the state's university systems.

His proposal aims to cut $131 million from the UC system by June 30, 2010, and eliminate a planned 7.5 percent budget increase of $210 million for 2009-10.

The governor's proposal also is based on the assumption that UC regents will approve fee increases of 9.9 percent, from $7,126 to $7,788 a year.

"Students, when they enroll at UC, expect a certain level of excellence, and in the absence of funding for enrollment growth, it's very difficult to maintain that," Vasquez said.

Even for students who do make the cut, getting into the campus of their choice next year will be tough.

UC President Mark Yudof suggested at the November regents meeting that more students than usual would be denied admission to their first-choice campuses and referred to under-enrolled campuses such as UC Merced.

Applicants had until the end of November to file their applications.

UC admissions officials have begun sorting through them, and incoming freshmen should expect to receive their decision letters by the end of March. Transfer applicants could be notified as late as May 1.

Vasquez said final application figures won't be available until later this month, after duplicates are weeded out and the increasingly antiquated paper applications are counted. Until then, he said, it would be hard to say definitively why UC received so many applications this year. He guessed more students are looking for affordable alternatives to private universities in the midst of a recession.

He said freshman applications for next year are up roughly 3 percent, and transfer applications jumped about 12 percent compared with last year.

"I know people who are really, really stressed out," said Jimmy Cooper, a senior at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills.

His first-choice school is UCLA, but the souring economy and the tumult at UC have him leaning toward more affordable schools in the California State University system and community colleges closer to home.

"I do want to get in," he said. "But if I don't, community college or a local state school doesn't seem like that bad of an idea anymore."