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UC cuts freshman enrollment for fall by 6%

The hardest-hit campuses, Irvine and San Diego, will see 12% reductions. Berkeley's class will grow 1.7% and Merced's 17%. Numbers of community college transfers will be allowed to rise.

January 15, 2009|Larry Gordon

Saying they could not avoid a painful decision, University of California regents voted Wednesday to trim freshman enrollment for next fall by 2,300 students, or about 6%, as a response to reduced state funding during the worsening budget crisis.

"None of us likes this," regents Chairman Richard Blum said of the student cut. But he placed responsibility for the action on state legislators, particularly Republicans opposed to tax increases. "For those who want to yell, go yell at Sacramento," Blum said.

Under the plan, six of UC's nine undergraduate campuses will see significant cuts to their ranks of California freshmen in the fall. UC Irvine and UC San Diego, the hardest hit, are slated for reductions of about 12%, or 550 and 520 slots respectively, because they enrolled more than their targeted number of students in recent years, officials said. At four other campuses, the cuts range from about 10% at UC Riverside to 6.6% at UC Santa Barbara.

The campuses that attract the most applications, UCLA and UC Berkeley, will stay close to current levels, with Berkeley growing by 80 freshmen, or about 1.7%, and UCLA declining 35 spots, or less than 1%. UC Merced, the newest and smallest school, will grow by 155 freshmen, a 17% rise.

While making freshman admissions a bit tougher, the regents encouraged more students to transfer as juniors to UC from California community colleges. They boosted the number of such transfers by 500, or about 4%, for the fall. No change was made to graduate student numbers, or to the percentage of out-of-state undergraduates, which runs about 6%.

The governing board voted 19 to 2 for the enrollment changes during a meeting held by teleconference. Regent Eddie Island and student regent D'Artagnan Scorza voted against the changes.

The regents also unanimously approved a salary freeze for 285 top UC administrators and an end to bonuses for those and other employees. Most of those affected by the salary freeze earn more than $200,000 a year, and some twice that.

Island, in a passionate statement, said the enrollment cut would damage public support for UC and disproportionately hurt African Americans. He questioned whether the $20 million in projected savings is "a big enough number to justify the harm that is going to result from this reduction."

But UC President Mark G. Yudof, who presented the plan, described it as "very moderate" and said delays would cause more painful cuts in the future. He said that UC receives no state money for the equivalent of 11,000 of its 226,000 students and that cuts proposed for next year's budget would worsen matters.

"If I had my way, the decrease in admissions would be zero," Yudof said. But with funding reductions looming, he added, "there is no free lunch."

Despite an expected slight decline in the number of high school graduates, UC freshman applications are about 3% higher than last year. Experts say the financial crisis is pushing more families to the public university rather than to more expensive private schools.

Officials emphasize that students whose high school grades and test scores meet UC's eligibility standards will still be offered places somewhere in the UC system. Yet students will find it harder to gain entrance to their first choices, and the plan assumes that many will then decide to attend non-UC schools.

UC Student Assn. President Lucero Chavez said her group is worried that lower enrollments will particularly hurt low-income and minority students, but decided not to oppose the regents' action. Instead, she said, the association will urge the Legislature to provide money to restore enrollments to previous levels.

She said, however, that the group would fight a proposal to raise basic fees for the coming school year by 9.4%, or about $662, for most in-state undergraduates. That would bring their average bill to $8,670, not including housing, books and other expenses.

State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, the La Canada-Flintridge Democrat who is chairman of the Asssembly's higher education committee, said he was pleased about the pay freeze for top UC administrators, which is similar in spirit to his bill to freeze salaries for many state workers who earn more than $150,000.

But Portantino, whose daughter is applying to UC and other schools this year, said enrollment trims would make California weaker in the long run. "The harder we make it for Californians to go to school and get an education, the harder it is to meet the demands of the economy," he said.

Cal State, California's other public university system, has already moved to reduce its overall 450,000-student enrollment by about 10,000 next year.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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