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Foreign students to UC's rescue

Boosting international student enrollment would benefit the university system's bottom line and prestige.

November 18, 2010|By Patrick Mattimore

The United States attracts more international college students — 691,000 last year — than any other country. Recognizing a chance to plug some financial holes, the University of California system is attempting to boost enrollment of non-Californians by recruiting some of those foreign students ("UC campuses move to recruit more out-of-state students," Nov. 14).

California is a particularly attractive option to international families seeking to send their children to world-class universities. Chinese parents, often with only one child, are anxious to send their children to the United States, largely because China does not have enough top-flight universities to accommodate demand. China sends more college students to the U.S. than any other country; in the last year alone, it increased the number of students it enrolls in U.S. colleges by 30%.

Inside California, however, UC's recruiting drive has sparked controversy. The Times quotes UC San Diego professor Daniel Widener, who heads that campus' African American studies program, as saying that UC should invest its recruiting resources in talented Californians, especially from low-income households. His quixotic vision ignores financial reality, in which the state faces a massive deficit gap of more than $20 billion. Last year, the university had to offset a reduction of $813 million in state funding.

Enter non-resident students, who are charged about three times the tuition paid by California residents, which is why UC's campuses are so anxious to get more international students. They pay about $34,000 in tuition and fees, $23,000 more than in-state students. This extra tuition from out-of-state students helps support classes and campus life for Californians.

But California's public universities benefit in other ways. According to Lawrence H. Pitts, the UC system's provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, non-Californians bring cultural, intellectual and geographic diversity to the campuses and generally must have higher academic credentials for admission than residents.

California already has more international students than any other state; the problem is that the UC system lags behind private universities in California and their nationwide peers. USC, for example, has more international students than any other U.S. college. UCLA is the only UC school that ranks among the top 20 U.S. colleges in international student enrollment. Out-of-state undergraduates make up only 6% of UC's overall enrollment. By comparison, flagship public universities in Michigan and Virginia enroll more than 30% of their undergraduates from out of state, according to The Times.

The UC system enjoys an enviable international reputation. Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which compiles one of the two most prominent world rankings of universities, rated six of UC's nine undergraduate campuses among the top 50 universities worldwide, with UC Berkeley situated in the No. 2 spot. Top universities compete for the world's best students; there's no reason UC's status as a public university should keep it from doing the same. Californians deserve it.

The Board of Regents will discuss a recommendation that UC increase its overall enrollment of non-resident undergraduates to a modest 10% over the next few years, with some variation among campuses. The regents would be wise to approve that recommendation and take up this opportunity to further diversify the university's student body.

Patrick Mattimore formerly served on the faculty/student admissions committee at the University of California-Hastings College of the Law. He is an adjunct instructor at Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program in Beijing.

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