UC Eugene — why Californian students keep coming and what it means for the UO
The number of Californians who attend the University of Oregon has more than doubled in the last nine years. To put that into perspective, you only need to look as far as the UO’s nicknames: University of California—Eugene or Cal State Oregon.
At the beginning of this year, there were 8,495 out-of-state students at the UO, with Californians making up over half of that at nearly 5,000. In 2007, there were 2,279 Californians attending UO.
These yearly increases are partly because of policies within the UC system that drive college-bound Californians to other states. And Oregon schools are welcoming them out of a need for more tuition dollars.
Oregon State University saw a 77 percent increase in out-of-state students from 6,583 to 11,700 between fall term 2010 and fall term 2015.
“The reality is that when the state legislature votes to defund public universities, we are left with some tough choices to make,” UO assistant vice president and director of enrollment Jim Rawlins said. “This mentality [of enrolling more out-of-state students] is part of the budgetary [balancing] of every public university. We charge out-of-state students more than it costs to go here so that we can charge in-state students less.”
This may sound like Oregon schools are favoring out-of-state students over Oregon residents, but UO officials say that’s not the case.
“Being the flagship university for the state, we have an obligation to admit Oregonians and invest in their futures,” said Rawlins. “So we wouldn’t have the kinds of policies that would disadvantage Oregonians.”
But other state schools aren’t bound to this obligation, including California.
The latest audit of the UC system by the California state auditor stated that certain behaviors and decisions of the UC Board disadvantage residential Californians from getting accepted at their campuses.
For Patrick McClellan a native of Palo Alto, California, going to the UO, these findings are nothing new.
“I’ve always heard the rumors that it’s so much easier for out-of-state students to get accepted at UC schools,” McClellan said. “And I’ve heard that they are accepting fewer and fewer Californians.”
There are a number of ways that California public universities have contributed to this exclusivity.
According to Margarita Fernandéz of the California state auditor’s office, UC schools have been lowering academic standards for non-residential students over the past five years in order to accept more out-of-state applicants.
In 2015, UC schools saw a more than 400 percent increase in non-residential enrollment from the previous year.
“We also saw cases where residential students would receive acceptance letters that referred them to enrollment at other schools, even ones that they hadn’t applied for,” Fernandéz said. “This was not the case for non-residential students.”
Before a policy shift in 2007, UC schools gave tuition revenue to the state governing body, the UC Board of Reagents, which then distributed funds among the 10 UC campuses based on size and other factors. After the policy change, UC schools got to keep all of the non-residential tuition rather than give it away, creating an incentive to enroll more out-of-state students.
A junior studying economics, McClellan said the size and exclusivity of UC schools reflect his own reason for seeking a college outside of his home state.
“At UC schools, it can be hard to get the classes you need on time, leading to more time spent pursuing your degree,” McClellan said, “Since I’m already taking out loans to pay off school, why not go to an out-of-state school where I know I will be able to graduate sooner and for less money in the end?”
As UC enrollment of California students began to fall, the UO’s went up. In the fall of 2008, one year after the UC policy change, the UO saw Californian enrollment increase by 558 students. In 2012, one year after the academic standards for non-residential students in California were lowered, another sharp increase brought the number up by 554.
“There are 11 Californian high school seniors to [every high school senior] in Oregon,” Rawlins said. “To cover such a big population of students, we run an office out of California that can go out to all the schools there.”
This is the UO’s only out-of-state recruitment office.
It falls to recruiters and the enrollment office to find and take advantage of all the factors that can draw high school students. Besides the economic advantages, Rawlins said one aspect of UO has been a particular draw: its football team.
“We are very fortunate to have a national spotlight on our football program here,” said Rawlins. “And while that may not end up being the reason people ultimately decide to attend here, it is a good way of getting people interested in looking at the other things Oregon has to offer.”
The football team was a big part of why senior finance major Rachel Weinfield decided to come to UO.
“My high school didn’t have a football team,” Weinfield said. “So I really saw an opportunity to see something new and participate in that college culture.”
Regardless of the reasons that bring Californians here, or that cause them to go out of their home state, the UO (and Oregonians attending state schools) clearly benefits from their extra tuition dollars.
With tuition costs at the UO rising steadily in the last decade, out-of-state student tuition costs are triple the amount of in-state tuition (around $32,000 vs. around $10,000, respectively). But for McClellan and Weinfield, the payoff appears to be worth it.
“Regardless of what school you go to, you know you’re going to get roughly the same education,” Weinfield said. “So really it’s about the other kinds of opportunities you can get there. I’m very happy with where I am.”
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