I am often asked by the parents of students that I work with why the college landscape has changed so much and “when did such and such school become so hard to get into.” This was the topic of conversation last week among several colleagues and we all wondered aloud if we could get into our respective Alma Matters today. Resoundingly, the collective response was “no way.”
The landscape changed about 15 years ago. From the 1970’s through 2000, Funding by the individual states was the primary financial tool of growth and sustainability for public colleges and universities. As budgetary cutbacks and restrictions filtered through the state’s economy the options became limited. The only methodologies to keeping those doors open was to cut classes making the four year reality a distant memory and to increase tuitions with the heavy hand poised at the out of state versus in state tuition rates. By curtailing or keeping the in state admit rate constant but increasing the financially advantageous out of state or out of country tuition rates, the schools coffers began to fill. In the past 15 years we also saw a significant increase in non California students attending the UC and the State schools.
For those of us that have been out of school for more than 25 years, a look back will shed great insight. In a recent article in the NY Times by Kevin Carey, he noted that in the year 2000 a majority of students attending colleges within their state of residence were from that state and the list of international students was almost nonexistent. He noted that in 2000, UCLA admitted 43 international students as freshmen compared with 1,046 a mere decade later. It’s clear to see the reason. In state tuition at a UC costs $13,200 today while the non-resident and international student pays just over $36,000 for the same education (a premium of more than $24,000 per year and when multiplied by the average graduation rate of 5 years, this formula nets the school more than $120,000 in additional revenue).
Not only have the costs escalated monumentally but the influx of out of state or out of country applicants has skyrocketed thus making the admissions curve steeper and the number of in state students denied admission significantly greater. In fact across the board, the UC system, arguable the best state system in the United States has become out of reach for a majority of students making UC admission tantamount to some of the elite colleges in the U.S. In fact, Berkley’s admission rate for the freshman class of 2015 was less than 10 percent putting it on par with a few of the IVY’s and some of the nation’s most sought after universities.
In 2000, the political landscape and ease of immigration was not as robust. The number of applications from India and the Far East was a fraction of what they are today. This is not unique to California. Well noted public schools in most states are seeing an influx of out of state or international students while the number of in state admits plummets. Some states have mandates which ensure that the predominant admission count will come from in state but that’s not the norm. The rising costs and increase of non residents on state schools has the effect that sending our students to an out of state public school is almost on par and in some cases surpasses the costs charged at many private schools.
So what does the future hold for our current crop of high school students in their quest to attend public universities? Today’s student will need higher GPA’s to compete for spots and will need to score higher on their ACT/SAT exams in order to level the playing field. If not, they will need to expand their options looking to out of state programs that do not have huge differences between the in state and out of state student tuition fees.
Working hand in hand with a professional college counselor is one way of helping navigate the college road today. While school counselors can be of assistance, they are often overburdened by the their student loads and have limited time to fully explore collegiate options. Furthermore, most high school counselors are not financial advisors and lack the skills necessary to navigate the financial decisions that go into picking the “right fit” for the student and their families resources. Of course left handed pitchers with 90+ miles per hour fastballs or 6’-7” defensive ends with lightening speed will always help level the playing field.