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UCs and CSUs – Issues to Consider

There have been a few recent articles in the LA Times which should give pause to California students and parents considering any of the UC or CSU campuses.  Many parents believe that our public university system is the best value education for their child.  We challenge our clients to do some research before coming to this conclusion, because it’s not always the case.

Let’s start with the Cal State system.  There are 23 California State University (CSU) campuses, and this article highlights the fact that one of the largest problems – overcrowding – is preventing students from getting the classes they need to graduate in four years.  This means that the seemingly low cost of a CSU education – which averages around $26,000 per year, including room and board – isn’t really as low as you think it is, if you end up paying for five, or even six years.   The only two campuses with four-year graduation rates above the national average for public universities, which is 34%, are Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (47%) and California Maritime Academy (45%).  San Diego State comes close with a 33% four-year graduation rate. (Source: California State University Analytics)

Suzie and Evelyn @ UCLA

Suzie Wynne and Evelyn Alexander at the UC Counselor Conference in fall, 2015

The University of California’s nine campuses have higher graduation rates, with all but Merced having graduation rates above the national average.  This data does not come directly from the UC system but I have verified it on their much more difficult to use data system.

What do these statistics mean?  Students who choose California public universities must take the initiative to ensure that they get the classes they need to stay on the four-year graduation track.  Here are a few tips for students who enroll at a UC or a CSU school:

  • See a faculty or staff advisor as soon as you know your major.  Work with your advisor to determine your graduation requirements and choose courses that fill them.
  • Classes, specifically introductory courses, are large and fill quickly.  One of our clients, a first-year student at UCSB, had 900 students in her Introduction to Chemistry class in the fall of 2015.  Register as early as you can and if you are excluded from a class, go to the professor and ask to be added.  Losing the opportunity to take a class that may be a prerequisite for others can put you permanently behind.
  • If you are undecided, go to the academic advising office and work with them to take a variety of courses that will help you choose a major as early as possible, staying on track for a four year graduation plan.
  • Be your own advocate!  YOU are the best person to look out for your own needs, especially in a large bureaucracy-based environment.

Four-year graduation rates are not just a number.  They mean money.  The more time it takes to graduate, the more you will pay for college.  And while you are still in school, you are losing out on the opportunity to charge into the workforce and start earning a living!

Another topic of concern, specifically at UC Berkeley, is the school’s budget.  This article discusses not only the very large budget deficit UC Berkeley is currently experiencing, but the internal strife the deficit has caused with faculty, who have seen large increases in administrative staff without corresponding support for academic programs.

Finally, many California parents are concerned about the growing out-of-state and international student enrollment at the UC schools (this article discusses the study conducted by the state legislature on this issue) We ran the numbers for the entire UC system, as well as for UC Berkeley and UCLA, which seem to be the only campuses that people get upset about.

For the entering class in fall, 2015:

  • Systemwide: ~200k undergraduates enrolled; 10% are international students; 5.5% are domestic out-of-state students
  • Berkeley: 27,500 undergraduates enrolled; 12% are international; 12.4% are domestic out-of-state students
  • UCLA: 29,585 undergraduates enrolled; 12.5% are international; 10.5% are domestic out-of-state students

Magellan College Counseling’s four counselors each visit several dozen colleges every year.  We visit state schools in other states, and we almost always ask the percentage of out-of-state students.  Most people seek schools with geographic diversity, more than just token diversity, seeing this as a positive enhancement to students’ college education experience.  At most nationally-recognized research universities, an average of ten percent international students, on top of 10-20% out-of-state students, is not unusual.  The top UC campuses are in line with many other top-ranked colleges in this regard.  The challenge, for our state, is that California graduates more high school students than any other state in the country, and until this year, the UC campuses have not expanded the number of California residents the system has accommodated, while taking more out-of-state students over the last few years.  While we understand the concern and dismay this has caused for California parents and students, we believe that California students seeking the type of experience they could get at a UC campus have many options.  We encourage our clients to look at all of the available options, keeping in mind the budget and size limitations of the UC system.

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