Survey illustrates UC’s reliance on tuition of foreign students

UC President Janet Napolitano embraced a budget strategy of sharply increasing international students who pay far more in tuition without seeking input from then-Gov. Jerry Brown or the Legislature.

A survey of 2,800 U.S. colleges prepared by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department underscores once again how much the budget of the University of California relies on high tuition and fees paid by foreign students.

The survey showed California had far and away the most international students with 161,693. Some 42 percent of the students are from China and 13 percent are from India. Five UC campuses had at least 8,000 international students: UCLA (11,942), UC San Diego (10,652), UC Berkeley (10,063), UC Irvine (8,064) and UC Davis (8,048).

The numbers illustrate that for all the criticism leveled at UC President Janet Napolitano in a 2016 report by state Auditor Elaine Howle, the UC system’s most important fiscal strategy relies on attracting foreign students. They pay about $44,000 annually, triple what in-state students pay.

The audit showed that in 2008 – at the beginning of the Great Recession – about 5 percent of students in the UC system were international students or from other U.S. states. By 2016, the number was 15.3 percent. The large increase was linked by UC leaders to the sharp long-term decline in state financial support. Critics, however, said UC had refused to do any of the belt-tightening done in the rest of the state government in response to a 20 percent decline in state revenue a decade ago.

Howle’s most explosive allegation was that standards had been lowered so much for non-California applicants that qualified in-state students couldn’t get into to any UC. 

Napolitano rejected nearly all of Howle’s allegations but didn’t challenge her point that a huge change in UC admissions policies had been made with scant explanation to the public or to then-Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature. Under heavy pressure, she agreed to major increases in California student admissions – but not to stop relying on foreign students as cash cows. The main concession on that front from UC regents who strongly backed Napolitano: a 2017 decision to have a maximum of 18 percent of non-California students in the UC system. This has had little if any effect on how many are admitted because UC now enrolls far more total students – about 280,000 – then it did four years ago (248,000).

Californians enrolled in UC system set record this year

In June, UC announced that new records had been set in the number of Californians admitted as freshmen (71,655) and transfer students (28,752) at the system’s nine undergraduate campuses.

Meanwhile, it appears that tension related to the U.S.-China trade war has ended the years of annual increases in Chinese students at UC. According to recent reports, their enrollment is flat or slightly down at several campuses. UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla lamented the development in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last month – not on fiscal grounds but because of the quality of the students, especially those in science majors.

But another factor besides tension between Washington and Beijing could be that colleges across the United States have reached the same conclusion that UC leaders did in 2008 and are now going after the same pool of high-paying international students as UC.

In August, USA Today reported that its analysis of federal data showed that “more than 240 public universities across the country admitted fewer in-state students in 2017 than they did five years earlier, and for 46 of those, the share of in-state students is down by at least 10 percent.”

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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