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By Elena Kadvany
Special to the Almanac
At the Menlo-Atherton High School graduation June 7, Wanda Luke of Menlo Park explained her daughter's college admission experience. Graduating senior Anna Luke was accepted at every out-of-state school she applied to, but none of the University of California campuses.
Ms. Luke's experience reflects a growing trend in college admissions for California high school students. State budget cuts are forcing the UCs to look to out-of-state applicants to boost funding. Inversely, more and more out-of-state public schools are courting California students.
California's public education system is struggling to maintain the quality education and affordable price tag the UC and California state universities are known for. This has inevitably altered what was previously a relatively easy path for California students from high school to college.
"The UC has had to decide whether they want to dilute their offerings to the same number of students they've always admitted or admit fewer students so that they do not need to cut a lot of programs," said Menlo-Atherton college adviser Alice Kleeman. "They've made that latter choice."
Out-of-state colleges seem to have noticed the changes in California higher public education and are heavily recruiting California students by visiting high schools and offering generous scholarships. Ms. Kleeman said many out-of state public universities, from the University of Oregon, University of Arizona, and University of Colorado to the more far-flung University of South Carolina and University of Delaware, visited the M-A career center this year.
She explained that such schools are most likely seeking out-of-state students for the same reasons the UCs are: higher tuition revenue and geographic diversity.
This trend is reflected in M-A's graduating classes from the past two years. Last year, 13 percent of the 376 graduating students from M-A went to UCs, 10 percent to CSUs and 9 percent to out-of-state public universities.
This year, state attendance is down and out-of-of state is up, with 9 percent of 395 graduating seniors heading to the UCs, 8 percent to CSUs, and 14.5 percent to out-of-state public universities.
Students and parents smarting with the feeling of rejection from their home state's education system are quick to blame non-California students for taking their spot at one of the UC or CSU campuses. However, it's state budget cuts that are at fault.
If the UC and Cal State campuses were funded adequately by the state, there would be plenty of room to admit more California students. "It's not a question of capacity; it's a question of funding," Ms. Kleeman said.
Such issues have forced her to be more "realistic" in her advice to students, she said. She has observed a growing number of students who are admitted to their first choice school, yet cannot afford to attend.
"I never say to students, 'Don't apply.' But what you don't want to have is a student admitted to eight colleges and not be able to afford to go to any," Ms. Kleeman said. "So their lists now not only need balance academically, but they need balance financially."
M-A graduate Max Goldenstein, 18, of Menlo Park, echoed this sentiment at graduation. When asked why he decided upon his college of choice, UC Santa Barbara, he simply responded, "Because it's cheap."
Max also commented on the competitive nature of today's college admissions climate. "It's the growing of the bar. We're all expected to do more," he said. "You have to make yourself that much more interesting."
That being said, a competitive climate should also mean students being more open-minded to attending lesser-known colleges or pursuing alternative post-high school paths.
A small percentage of M-A graduates are entering job train programs, going into the military, or taking a gap year. "I think we'll have more students doing that (taking a gap year) every year as they realize that they can," Ms. Kleeman said about gap years.