By Lisa M. Krieger
Posted: 03/11/2010 05:56:01 PM PST
With the state's higher education system in crisis, more California students are vying for admission at out-of-state universities, applying for seats at campuses from the hills of upstate New York to the snowy flatlands of Ohio to the deserts of Arizona.
University officials at public and private schools across the country are reporting record levels of California applicants to next fall's freshman class — an intellectual flight pattern that worries public-policy experts, who fear students may never return.
The trend comes as the University of California and California State University systems are shedding courses, reducing enrollment and furloughing professors. And many outside schools are boosting their recruitment of Golden State students.
The demand for space in California universities could intensify in the future, concludes a report released this week by the California Postsecondary Education Commission. The commission urged the state to prepare to serve an additional 387,000 students, a 16 percent increase, by 2019.
Meanwhile, the University of Washington in Seattle received 3,830 freshman applications from Californians — a 22 percent increase over last year's 3,120. By comparison, UW's total applicant pool climbed only 9.5 percent. Arizona State University in Tempe received 1,000 more California applications this year than last, a 24 percent increase.
On the other side of the country, the University of Delaware reported a 36 percent increase in California applications and the University of Virginia, a 24 percent uptick.
The surge is not fueled by an extra-large crop of California high school seniors; freshman applications to UC are up 2.4 percent and CSU, 7 percent.
Students and their families say they are being extra-cautious, given limited access to California's top schools. Georgia Thomas, 17, of San Mateo earned a grade-point average over 4.2 — due to A's in her Advanced Placement classes — while attending Aragon High School.
While she's already been accepted by the University of Michigan, University of Washington and University of Texas — the top schools in those states — she's waiting to hear from the University of California.
"Berkeley and UCLA are her first choices, but she applied out of state due to concerns she might not be accepted at UC's flagship campuses," said her father, Winston Thomas, chief operating officer of the biotech company Deltagen.
The Public Policy Institute of California bemoans the trend, saying the state's knowledge-based economy can't afford to lose its top students. It projects that by 2025, 41 percent of the state's jobs will require a college degree — but only 35 percent of California adults will have one. If current trends persist, according to the institute's analysis, the state will face a shortfall of one million college graduates.
"It's a bad idea to have some of your most talented high school graduates leaving the state to go to college elsewhere — because it is less likely that they'll come back to California once they leave," said Hans Johnson of the public-policy institute. "We need more college graduates to help build our economy."
"It's a sign that California is less desirable for people who are on a good path in life," he said. "And it is a reflection of the lack of educational opportunities here."
Pricey private schools are also reporting eye-popping increases in applications from California. The elite University of Pennsylvania got 3,350 applications, a 22 percent increase. At Colgate University, in the Snowbelt of New York, they're up 15 percent; at Swarthmore, they're up 16 percent; Villanova, 34 percent. The small Ohio-based College of Wooster received 222 applications from California compared with 137 last year.
Even at the deeply Southern campus of Washington and Lee University — where Confederate general Robert E. Lee and his horse, Traveller, are buried — California now ranks right behind Virginia in volume of applications. Four years ago, 159 Californians applied to Washington and Lee; this year, 472 did.
Previous analyses suggested that California's enrollment pressures would ease because the state's high school population is leveling off. But according to the new projection, so-called "participation rates" are climbing, because more young people — particularly Latinos — seek to attend college. By 2019, Latino undergraduate demand will increase by 42 percent, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission report.
Because of the growth, the state must provide additional funding for expansion — or 277,000 students may be turned away next year because the schools don't have enough money for instruction, according to the report.
Some may change their minds about college, experts fear. Others will simply go elsewhere.
"Students see that other states still have capacity," said University of Oregon admissions director Brian Henley.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 408-920-5565.