What’s in this column: Some news on this year’s Berkeley admissions results; a short history of U.C. admissions (why is it getting so crazy–the answer is partly here); some information on budgets and politics at the U.C. If you do not wish to read more than 140 or so characters at a time, scan for bold print and font color changes to see important data and subtopics.
If no news is good news . . . let’s just say there’s news for the U.C. system and in particular for Berkeley.
My goal here is to put this news–some of which you have likely heard, particularly if you live in California–into perspective. And I’d like to start by making a simple statement: the University of California was and still is the greatest university system in the world (sorry, University of London and your 18 campuses–more on them in my coming entry on international options). And I can say that U.C. will (still) be great you are applying next year, though the bathrooms may not be as clean nor the landscaping as tidy as in earlier days, nor the computer lab repaired and updated quite as often, particularly at Berkeley where–here it is, your first data point for the year–500 employees are being laid off right now.
But before we get to budgetary problems and that massive construction project called U.C. Merced, let’s take a quick look at admissions results for the U.C. Berkeley, which sets the bar for the system as a whole. I add one caveat: waitlist admits and transfers are still in process, so the averages I give you here are going to move around a bit.
Here is the scoop on the numbers for U.C. Berkeley for the 2015-2016 admissions period (a.k.a. the Class of 2020. a.k.a. students applying for the fall of 2016):
U.C. Berkeley Class of 2020 admissions
Average GPA: 3.91 (4.41 Weighted)
SAT: (25th-75th%) 2075-2237–note that this is the SAT II, including language and math
All together Now: Holy Bleep! And for U.C. Berkeley: Welcome to the newest member of the Ivy League. No, seriously, in terms of admissions data, they have arrived. Oh sure, Berkeley is not like Yale, Princeton or Stanford (which dropped below a 5% admissions rate this year). But they are pretty close to Cornell, which has an admissions rate of 13.96% for the class of 2020. Again, these numbers will move a bit as waitlist admits occur, but not much, and it tells you what you are facing when you apply next year–to Berkeley or Cornell, which had a 1400-range SAT II average last year. You have my full sympathy.
Seriously, you do. I grew up in California, my father worked for the Cal State system, and I have been directly involved with higher education in California in one way or another since the 1980’s. And frankly, I don’t need a bigger college advising business opportunity than I already have, driven by a supply/demand problem that has been developing since about 1980. The problem you face is part of a bigger problem involving what used to be called the Commons, particularly troubling when higher education is, in my opinion, the leading industry of the United States, not tech or, um, manufacturing.
Seriously. Silicon Valley exists because of the proximity of a half-dozen universities and cheap, clean water as much as it does to genius entrepreneurs like Msrs. Hewlett and Packard, Grove and Noyce or to Wunderkind like Wozniak and Jobs (Yes, water-check out early chip production and the archaeology of the Valley here: Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History) . The immediate cause for everything from HP on is as much in the universities as it is in the up-by-the-bootstraps mythology. Hewlett and Packard were both Stanford alums and Woz was a Golden Bear, as are many inhabitants of the Silicon flatlands now. Yeh, Jobs was a dropout, from Reed College, but Reed also shaped him before he left. It’s still a great college, if you can handle the tuition.
So to see the applications difficulty reach this level makes me somewhat cray-cray. Particularly when I work with California-resident students who visit the campus, see the Cal students, take a walk up Strawberry Canyon to look out over Memorial Stadium, with Mount Tamalpais and the Golden Gate in the distance and . . . then, having fallen in love withe place, confront an admit rate like that of Cornell.
I will be delivering more detailed advice in upcoming columns on how to deal with this as you develop application strategy, which starts with looking at the full suite of U.C. campuses, as well as at U.C. proxies from British Columbia to destinations yet to be disclosed. For the moment, let’s turn our attention to another “controversy” that probably adds resentment to those of you who are Californians.
Here it is: the California State Auditor recently released a “highly critical report” on the U.C. and revealed (gasp) that U.C. is admitting more out-of-state students. Here is the gist:
“Nonresident enrollment in the UC system increased by 82 percent, or 18,000 students, from 2010-11 to 2014-15, while in-state numbers fell by 1 percent, or 2,200 students”
For some historical perspective, the U.C. system originally admitted the top 12.5% of students in California–then they dropped that to top 10%, and now it’s closer to the top 8%, but this is no longer a solid number that is part of the mission statement for serving Cali students. But none of this is really news. The numbers have been out there. The regents at each stage announced the retreat from California admissions and were clear about budgets and their need for increased funding via out-of-state tuition. This was not proclaimed on billboards or in radio ads, but they did put it out there for anybody who wanted to pay attention. And the auditor’s report as well as the outrage is highly political, an intentional pot-stirring by an assemblyman working on his career, with Governor Brown lurking somewhere in the background. Not to mention those jumping on the bandwagon, like San Ramon assemblywoman Catherine Baker, who wants to cut taxes, not increase U.C. funding and cap out-of-state enrollment . . . . to fix things . . . .which amounts to promising more with less. Works pretty well in Zen koans, not so well in running an institution of higher education. For more on that, I quote and link the Contra Cost Bee: “Baker’s approach sounds a lot like the words and actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.”
All I can add is this: if affects your kids–or you–now, or will affect your kids, you can have an influence. Read up on my links. Talk to people about it. Vote early and vote often. And then plan around it for admissions.
The enrollment facts are partly due to enrollment policy changes in 1986 and to a wider effect of disinvestment in public goods (which is a subject way too large for this column, or any column, for that matter–a book would be needed). What is annoying to me is the supposed surprise of so many, and the attitude of politicians, who seem to think that funding can freeze and so can tuition. In particular, I’m looking at Governor Brown when I say this, and I have voted for Jerry every time he has run for office. So message to the Gov: Sure, for a year or two you can freeze things while you work out your problems, then you have to pay the bills. And just cutting janitors and tech support is not going to fix the budget for the U.C.
Please note: I do not think tuition should increase. But I know more money is needed, and this squeeze will soon begin to affect the U.C. system and Berkeley in particular, in ways students will feel . . . actually it already is happening, not just in the jobs lost, but also in the support for students that those 500 employees represent. Need that computer lab to be repaired? Sorry, maybe next month. For more, I quote and link this:
“Class sizes are ridiculous and desks are broken,” said Rebecca Ora, a doctoral candidate in film and digital media.
As for the Ivy-League admissions numbers, the enrollment policy change I mention occurred in 1986. Prior to that year, students could only apply to one U.C. campus; if they were not admitted, they would then be redirected to another campus. Pretty simple, if limited in terms of choice, and to control the outcome, students chose one campus they preferred and that they felt they had a good chance to be enrolled in. Most were okay if they were shunted from Berkeley to, say, Davis or San Diego. So keep in mind that some of the crazy numbers for Berkeley–and U.C.L.A.–are driven by the multiple admissions policy as well as by the high, international profile of those campuses. Pretty much everybody applying to the U.C. system at large applies to Berkeley and Los Angeles, even if they really think Riverside is their real target–Why not, when there is no real downside?
For a quick history of U.C. admission, have a look here: Frontline on U.C. Admissions
But back to that budget: here’s the news at U.C. Berkeley–
150 million dollar Budget Deficit
500 Job Cuts
Again, if you do not need to follow the news on state government and education in general, you might find this anywhere from confusing to outrageous–after all, did we not pass proposition 30, thus increasing taxes and so securing funding? Well, yes we did. But even then, in 2012, this still left a 1 billion dollar deficit, yep billion with a B, due to funding shortfalls going all the way back to the financial meltdown of 2008-2009 and to not funding obligations back to the turn of the century. Berkeley Chancellor Dirks announced in February of this year that he forecasts a 150 million deficit.
Expect other campuses to have problems as well. One of the causes is pensions costs, but of course for years the U.C. stopped contributing to pensions and now the U.C. system as a whole–as part of their budget from the state– must make contributions to catch up. Lest I sound too much like Catharine Baker, I add that U.C. and therefore the State of California had contracts with pay and benefits that they signed and should stand behind, and that the big decisions were made in the legislature and in the Governor’s office–going back through Schwarzenegger’s time, btw. In my view, throwing employees overboard after making an agreement in exchange for labor and services is immoral and I know that this would lead to an exodus of employees that serve students–like that engineering professor who is or will in the near future be teaching your kid–as well as making it harder for U.C. to recruit good profs and support people.
It is true that U.C. has bloat in administration, but technology has led to increasing need for technology administration, as have new requirements for programs and services. You want somebody to police discrimination or to oversee additional support to ensure graduation rates, you gotta pay for their salaries.
The upside for you, Oh Applicant or Parent of Applicant is that part of the deficit comes from an agreement fought over, excuse me, negotiated between U.C. President Napolitano and Governor Brown, an agreement that freezes tuition while increasing the number of California students by 10,000 over a three-year period. For the coming application season, this means that an additional 2,500 students from California will be admitted. So this is good: the current 13,400 tuition and fees will rise only at about 3% per year and you have a better chance of getting in, Oh California Resident, and a pretty much equal chance to last year, if you are not a state resident.
While the idea that your first-year tuition, if you apply in the fall of 2016 will go up by 3% sounds bad, it’s not, relative to what might have happened. This 3% per year rise means that in 2020 you will pay about 15,500–but in projections back in 2012-2014, tuition was going to be in the 20,000 dollar range by 2020. You will save around 12,000 dollars because of this agreement, over four years, if you start school in the fall of 2017. So more California students will get in, with little impact on out-of-state applicants, and you will pay less than the U.C. planned back on 2014.
My final note is this: I know that 2,500 admits for California students seems a pittance when there were 206,000 applicants for the U.C. system this year. And it is a paltry number, at 1.2% of that total of over 200,000–but also note that fall 2015 admissions saw 92,324 students admitted out of a total of 158,338 applications. And it is much better than a decline in California resident enrollment. So cheer up and apply to Santa Cruz and Riverside and have a good overall list of application targets. U.C. Merced . . . better for a transfer after two years in a community college, in my opinion. More on that in another post.