The University of California confirmed Tuesday what applicants and guidance counselors already knew firsthand: It was harder to gain admission to many of UC's nine undergraduate campuses this year.
Mainly in response to budget-related enrollment cutbacks for the fall, the percentage of California applicants offered freshman admission by at least one UC campus dropped from 75.4% last year to 72.5% this year, a decline of 3.85%, according to data released Tuesday. Officials estimated that it was the lowest acceptance rate for the university since 2000.
The biggest declines were at UC campuses in Santa Cruz, where the rate of acceptance dropped from 74.3% last year to 63.7%; Davis, where it fell from 52.4% to 46.2%; and Irvine, which went from 49% to 42.8%.
"Admission to the university was very competitive this year," said Susan Wilbur, the UC system's director of undergraduate admissions. In addition to the enrollment cut, a record number of California students -- 80,820 -- applied to at least one UC campus for this year, up about 1.4%. In-staters usually make up about 90% of UC undergraduates.
But Wilbur emphasized that all students who were academically qualified for the university would find a UC spot, although not necessarily at campuses they preferred. About 10,000 eligible students who were rejected by all campuses to which they applied will be offered admission to Riverside and Merced this month, she said.
Even before those so-called referral offers, it was somewhat easier this year to get into UC Riverside, which accepted 79.8% of its applicants, and UC Merced, which took 79.1%. The system's newest campus, Merced is trying to grow from its current 2,700 enrollment to 25,000 over the next two decades or so.
Wilbur said all UC campuses had taken into account projections that the recession could result in more students than last year attending a UC instead of higher-cost private colleges.
However, she said some others now might choose to live at home and attend a Cal State or community college instead of an out-of-town UC. So she said planners are uncertain how many students will commit to UC campuses by the May 1 deadline.
"We are very curious about that ourselves," she said.
In January, the UC regents reduced freshman fall enrollment by 2,300 students, or about 6%, because of what they described as insufficient state funding. UC officials now hope to enroll about 33,000 California freshmen for the coming school year, while increasing transfer students from community colleges by 500, about 4%.
Monica Ward DePriest, a college counselor at Marlborough School, a private Los Angeles school for girls, said she noticed the tighter admissions most dramatically at UC Davis and UC Irvine. Some students she felt certain would have been admitted to those campuses if they had been seniors last year were denied entrance last month, she said.
"I've been using the word 'perplexed' a lot this year," DePriest said. But she said that her students still have good offers from which to choose despite their disappointment about UC rejections.
Statewide, the percentage of Latinos among the UC pool of accepted applicants rose from 20.7% to 22.2%; of African Americans from 3.8% to 4%; and of Asian Americans from 33.6% to 34.9%. The percentage of white students admitted dropped slightly from last year, from 34.4% to 33.1%.
The average weighted grade-point average for all California students admitted to a UC campus this year was 3.82, which includes bonuses for honors and Advanced Placement courses. Last year, that figure was 3.79. The average SAT total was 1,790, out of a 2,400 perfect score on the three-part test, up from 1,777 last year.
The data showed that UCLA had the most applicants and the toughest admission rate, just 21.4% for in-state students. The average high school GPA for California students admitted to UCLA was 4.17 (with honors points) and the average SAT total was 1,992.
Morgan Currier, a senior at the humanities magnet at Cleveland High School in Reseda, was accepted by UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara but turned down by some other UCs, including Davis, San Diego and Berkeley. She said she too noticed that some UC campuses accepted friends last year and denied her classmates with similar grades last month.
"This year was a lot more of a downer and a very touchy subject for a lot of people," she said.
Morgan is being philosophical: "You don't want to hear 'We don't want you,' but at the same time I got into other places and have options." She said she will forgo a UC and attend the University of Washington in Seattle because she likes its location, big-time sports and a special major there in social justice.