Report: Tougher admission to California universities bad for the state

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California's public universities are becoming increasingly out of reach for all but the most elite students, a new report by the L.A.-based Campaign for College Opportunity argues. 

The group’s report, "Access Denied: Rising Selectivity at California’s Public Universities," details how policymakers have not only failed to keep up with population growth but also have shut access to students through funding cuts that have reduced the number of seats available at the state’s two public university systems.

“I think all of us who live here in California should be worried about, what does the future look like 20 years from now when not enough of our citizens got the college education they need to succeed in this work force?” said Michele Siquieros, the group’s president.

The state's population has grown 265 percent since 1950, according to the report, while the University of California and the California State University systems have endured budget cuts. In response, administrators have increased tuition 200 percent at U.C. since 2000, while tuition at CSU has gone up 175 percent in the same time period.

At CSU, budget cuts forced administrators to turn away nearly 140,000 eligible students between 2009-2014, while at U.C. the competition for admission has led to entering classes with average grade point averages higher than 4.0 at six of nine campuses.

Researchers predict that with the technology and problem solving skills many new jobs require – usually obtained through higher education – California will fall short way short of college educated workers by 2030.

“Does it really make sense that we’re not sending equally talented students -- that are for the most part also A and B students -- to have that chance to go to college,” Siqueiros said.

In 1960 the public universities agreed to limit U.C. admission to the top 12.5 percent of California students based on academic achievement. Cal State admission was limited to the top 33 percent.

“What we’re seeing is that it’s clear that in today’s economy those caps are irrelevant and I think should be relegated to history,” Siqueiros said.

In an email, University of California spokeswoman Rebecca Trounson didn’t disagree that the caps may be outdated.

“The challenge is funding," she said. "When state funding per student is declining, thinking about broadening access beyond the current levels seems unrealistic."

The discussion about how funding for public universities and all other California public agencies will kick into first gear in January as the annual budget process begins with the release of the governor’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year.