University of California achieves highest enrollment of California residents ever in the fall

The University of California saw a surge in the enrollment of in-state students this fall, adding more than 4,000 students to meet the demands of lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom. They aimed to increase the number of California residents attending the university system.

UC not only enrolled its largest-ever class of California first-year students, but it also saw a higher rate of growth in comparison to recent years.

The freshman class had a total of 42,058 Californians, which is 2,094 more students than the previous year. Apart from the increase in first-year students, UC also enrolled more returning in-state sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The overall number of California resident undergraduates at UC increased to 194,571, which is 4,145 more than fall 2022, a 2.2% jump. The majority of UC’s total undergraduate enrollment, 83.4%, was composed of California residents. However, enrollment of out-of-state students declined due to a drop in the number of returning international students.

This increase in California residents enrolling at UC represents a significant turnaround from the previous year, when lawmakers criticized UC for falling short of their demands.

UC campuses that experienced an increase in California freshmen last fall include: Santa Cruz, Irvine, Davis, UCLA, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. Berkeley and Merced saw more modest increases. When considering returning students, the largest increases in the number of California residents were observed at the Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego campuses. UC officials attribute these increases to higher retention rates.

Regarding the enrollment of California resident students, Pamela Brown, UC’s vice president of institutional research and academic planning, remarked during a call with reporters this week, “This is the largest number that we’ve ever had.”

In recent years, UC has faced pressure from lawmakers and Newsom to prioritize the enrollment of California resident undergraduates. Newsom implemented a multiyear agreement, known as a “compact”, with UC in 2022. The compact included annual budget increases of 5% in exchange for increased enrollment of in-state students, among other provisions.

UC has sometimes struggled to meet these enrollment requests, with higher numbers of admitted California residents not always translating to actual enrollments in recent years.

UC officials remain committed to further increasing the enrollment of California residents, despite Newsom’s proposal to defer $258.8 million in state funding for UC until 2025. The funding would include a 5% increase to UC’s base budget, as stipulated in the compact.

“We’re all in on the compact,” Brown emphasized.

UC also achieved greater racial diversity among its student body this fall. The proportion of students from underrepresented racial groups, including Black, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander students, increased by 1.1%, adding 3,481 students. The largest increase was seen among Latino students, with UC enrolling 61,075 Latino students, 2,671 more than the previous year. The majority of these Latino students were California residents.

UC managed to increase overall enrollment despite a slight decline in the number of California residents transferring from community colleges. The number of first-time transfer students decreased by 72, but this decline was less significant than the previous year’s decline of over 1,000 in-state transfer students.

Officials attribute this drop in transfer students to the decline in community college enrollment during the pandemic. However, with enrollment at community colleges showing signs of recovery, these trends may be reversing.

“We feel that this is something that is going to continue to improve in the next few years,” Brown stated.

UC’s current optimistic projections for in-state enrollment contrast with their statements from a year ago when they informed lawmakers that they were behind schedule in increasing the enrollment of California residents. However, UC ended up increasing the number of full-time equivalent California residents by over 1,500 students in 2022-23. This increase was due to students taking more classes than anticipated during the spring and winter terms.

Full-time equivalent enrollment is different from headcount enrollment, which is a simple count of total students. Full-time equivalent enrollment is calculated based on the total number of credits taken by students. Under the multi-year agreement with Newsom, UC plans to add 8,000 full-time equivalent resident undergraduates by 2026-27, with 2022-23 serving as the baseline.

UC will have the official numbers for its 2023-24 full-time equivalent enrollment at the end of the academic year, but the increase in headcount enrollment in fall 2023 indicates that the trend is upward.

Although UC’s funding is based on its full-time equivalent enrollment, lawmakers are equally concerned with increasing the total number of residents attending the university.

The university’s plans for continued enrollment growth raise concerns about capacity, particularly with some campuses already facing housing shortages.

During a call with reporters this week, officials mentioned ongoing housing projects at several campuses and noted that future students may not all attend UC’s traditional brick-and-mortar campuses.

“We are evaluating opportunities for students to pursue their degrees through things like our University of California in DC program, through our Sacramento program, which may not have direct footprints on campuses, but still allow them to have the in-person educational experience,” stated Ryan King, a spokesperson for the system.

King also mentioned that UC is considering the expansion of online offerings.

Brown highlighted the stability provided by the compact with Newsom and expressed confidence in UC’s enrollment growth plans. However, Newsom’s proposed budget deferrals would require UC to borrow money to cover the compact funding, amounting to $227.8 million, plus an additional $31 million to increase resident enrollment and offset declines in nonresident enrollment. Newsom stated that UC will be reimbursed in next year’s state budget. The Legislative Analyst

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