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How the University of California can remain one of the state's most valuable assets

April 19, 2011 | 12:39 pm

UCLA One of the most important jobs of the University of California is to educate California students. That's why it receives billions of dollars each year from the state.

So it is understandably worrisome to see a story like the one in The Times on Tuesday saying that UC is boosting its enrollment of out-of-state students. Of the freshmen admitted to UC's campuses for next year, more than 18% were from other states or countries,  up from 14% in 2010 and 11.6% in 2009. Why the increase?  Because out-of-state students pay $23,000 more in tuition each year than Californians,  and the university desperately needs the money.

Not all of those out-of-staters will end up attending; the university says it expects about 10% or less of the new freshman class to be from out of state. But even that is higher than in the past, and each spot that goes to someone from far away could, theoretically, have gone to a local applicant. According to William Tierney, director of USC's Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, accepting more out-of-state students threatens to diminish opportunities for Californians.

So why, then, does the L.A. Times editorial page think it's a good idea?

Because at the end of the day it's one of the least bad options. As UC faces hundreds of millions of dollars in new budget cuts, it must choose among unappealing program reductions and service cuts that could damage its quality and reputation beyond the breaking point. If it ends up driving off the university's most talented faculty members or hiking tuition beyond where it's already been hiked, or closing entire campuses, it could harm itself irreversibly.

Increasing the percentage of out-of-state students, however, is reversible. When times get better (assuming they do get better), it can begin to shift the numbers back, accepting more in-state students without having damaged the quality of the institution. The fact is that the UC system does not accept nearly as many out-of-state students as some other public universities do. Michigan, Virginia and Colorado all enroll more than 30% of their undergraduates from out of state.

The University of California is one of Californian's most valuable assets. It should stay that way.

RELATED:

To save UC, cut enrollment

UC gets smarter about budget cuts

President Mark Yudof's five-year plan for UC

Cuts to higher education: The Master Plan turncoats

Patt Morrison: Interview with University of California President Mark Yudof

--Nicholas Goldberg

Photo: Students study at UCLA, where 29.9% of freshman admission offers went to non-Californians. The system says it needs the extra cash they pay. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

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