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Audit: University Of California Undermines Resident Students

Photo credit: Sean Munson

The UCSD campus on a foggy morning, May 21, 2012

The University of California has undermined residents by admitting a growing number of nonresident students, some of whom were less qualified than in-state students, California's auditor said in a scathing report released Tuesday.

Out-of-state students pay significantly more than in-state students, providing much-needed money to the financially beleaguered University of California. But state Auditor Elaine Howle said those admissions come at the expense of California students who are meant to benefit from a public university system that's considered one of the top in the country.

"As a public institution, the university should serve primarily those who provide for its financial and civic support — California residents," Howle wrote. "However, over the past several years, the university has failed to put the needs of residents first."

University of California President Janet Napolitano immediately blasted the audit as seriously deficient, not helpful and unfair. She argued nonresident admissions have helped keep doors open for resident students at a time when state assistance has dropped considerably.

The audit undermines the work of faculty and staff who have kept standards high "during a period when state funding was cut by about one third," Napolitano wrote in response.

The University of California enrolls about 250,000 students across its 10 campuses. It is required to offer an undergraduate spot to the top one-eighth of California's high school graduates, but those students don't always get admitted to the campus of their choice.

The state audit found the university's drive to admit nonresidents has resulted in an 82 percent increase in the nonresident student population from the academic years 2010-11 through 2014-15, translating into 18,000 students.

Over the same period, the audit found a drop in resident enrollment of 1 percent, or 2,200 students.

The audit also found the university relaxed its academic standards for nonresidents, admitting 16,000 students whose scores fell below the median for admitted resident students.

The audit recommended capping the number of nonresidents at what it was before last decade's recession: 5 percent of new undergraduate enrollment versus 17 percent in 2014-15. It also recommended the university look at other ways to curb costs, including executive pay.

In fiscal year 2014-15, nonresident undergraduates paid about $37,000 in tuition and fees compared with $12,240 for students who met state residency requirements.

The audit drew concerns from lawmakers who want California students to benefit from the UC system.

"I question the priorities of UC and their commitment to educating California students," said Democratic Assemblyman Jose Medina, who is chairman of the chamber's higher education committee.

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