2015-16 Chair, UC Riverside Division of the Academic Senate
Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Opinion: Riverside Press-Enterprise, April 29, 2016
On March 29, the State Auditor published a report critical of the UC system. As a faculty leader who has closely observed academics on the ground at UC Riverside and systemwide, I would like to refute two of the audit’s most controversial claims: that enrolling nonresident students displaces qualified California students, and that the UC system relaxes admission standards for nonresident applicants.
If a UC campus has space to enroll non-residents, why does it not accept more California residents instead? The answer is that space is not the issue. Funding is. Each campus accepts the number of resident students covered by available funding; then it admits qualified nonresidents and uses their tuition money to fund additional resident students. The UC system has increased non-resident enrollment to help increase the enrollment of California students, as Press-Enterprise higher education reporter Mark Muckenfuss reported in a recent column. The state can always ensure further increases in resident enrollment at each UC campus by providing additional funding.
The number of resident applications has increased with the population, and with this the number of referrals from one campus to another has also grown. But it does not follow that the non-resident enrollment drives referrals, as implied by the auditor and uncritically asserted by some in the state Assembly; to affirm cause-and-effect using a statistical correlation as the only evidence is one of many strategies when using data to manipulate a story. In fact, growth in non-resident enrollment has been used to reduce the number of referrals.
All campuses hold non-resident students to the same or stricter requirements for admission as residents; all applications are evaluated impartially. Yet the auditor’s report notes that in 2012-14 the UC system admitted 16,000 nonresident students whose academic scores were below the residents’ median for that period. The apparent contradiction is only due to the auditor’s misleading description; in fact, the same data tell that in those years 77 percent of non-residents had credentials above the residents’ median. The auditor was also careful not to mention average scores, which are higher for nonresidents, and paint an accurate picture. Selectively using statistical measures in order to score a point is also a classic strategy in data manipulation.
The enrollment practices of the UC system are designed to meet its commitments to the citizens of California, as stated in the Master Plan of Higher Education – a thoughtful document that resulted from wide discussion across the state, with input form all stakeholders. Unilaterally rewriting the Master Plan along the lines suggested by the auditor and some in the Assembly would be a disservice to Californian students. It is also unnecessary: an unbiased evaluation of the data show that first and foremost the UC system serves California students.