For the first time in 15 years, the number of would-be freshmen applying to the University of California system has dropped.
The Los Angeles Times reports that applications for the coming school year dipped by 3 percent to 176,530, according to preliminary data from the university system. The drop could be a temporary blip, experts say. Among the system’s nine undergraduate campuses, only three — UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz — saw declines in freshman applications.
But it may be the first sign that a national trend of declining college enrollment could be reaching the West Coast.
The number of students graduating from California high schools is forecast to top out in six years. And that demographic trend already has hit the nation’s Northeastern states, where birth rates began declining years ago.
University officials say it is difficult to pinpoint reasons for the drop in freshman applications.
Possibilities include a decrease in the number of high school graduates; wildfires and other natural disasters that have made it harder for some students to apply; an incentive to enroll in community college using a new state waiver of tuition for the first year; and the deterrent of newly restrictive federal immigration policies.
Another possibility is that students are applying to fewer campuses after years of doing the opposite. Nationally, 35 percent of prospective first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges in 2016, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
At Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, college counselor Lynda McGee speculated that students may be deterred from applying to the university system because of the its low acceptance rates.
UCLA, for instance, is the most popular campus for applicants in the nation. For each of the last three years, it received more than 110,000 applications for about 5,700 seats. For the fall 2019 term, applications to UCLA dipped by about 2 percent, but still numbered 111,266.
“The state schools are getting harder and harder to get into, and their financial aid is getting stingier and stingier,” McGee says. “I feel [that] for students who have done very well in school, private school and out-of-state public school is the answer.”
The potential for a decline in enrollment has raised questions about the amount of construction under consideration on University of California campuses to accommodate the record enrollment of recent years.
The University of California and California State University are exploring whether to place a $8 billion construction bond proposal on the 2020 ballot.
Nathan Brostrom, UC’s chief financial officer, says much of the money the system would be seeking is needed to repair existing buildings and for upgrades for earthquake safety.