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Surviving the University Crisis In California

Yesterday my sister Jane contacted me in a panic. She's terrified that her son, who is a senior at an excellent public high school in the San Francisco Bay area, might get shut out of every state university on his list.

And no, my sister isn't paranoid. Over the weekend, her son's adviser called to share this grim news. Normally, my nephew, who is a solid "B" student, would be a shoo-in for many of the public universities in California. That, however, was before a Code Red was declared for the state's struggling universities.

Tuitions are up. Class offerings are down. Tens of thousands of admission spots have disappeared and even more of this year's crop of high school seniors will get rejected. It's no wonder that thousands of students and professors staged protest demonstrations last week at UCLA, the University of California, Berkeley, and other UC campuses.

Being keenly aware of all this (my son is also a high school senior in California), I found it curious that several UC universities--including UC Berkeley and UC San Diego--were marketing their schools 3,000 miles away at the annual convention of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Baltimore. Thousands of high school counselors from across the country were attending the conference last week that traditionally features a private college fair for this incredibly influential audience.

I stopped by the booths sponsored by UC Berkeley and UC San Diego to find out what their rational was for this marketing push.

"We are encouraging the best and the brightest students all over the world, internationally and out of state," explained Timothy Borch, assistant director in UC San Diego's admissions office.

But, I wondered out loud, what's with the cross-continental search for applicants when so many talented Californians are getting shut out back home?

"We don't recruit out of state," Borch replied, which made me wonder if he knew he was in Maryland.

Robert Patterson, the deputy director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at UC Berkeley, tried to put a favorable spin on his school's outreach effort. "What we won't do," he volunteered, "is select a student out of California who is less competitive."

Wow, I thought, what a relief that's going to be to the millions of teenagers sweating it back home.

In all fairness, I understand why the UC schools are trolling for bright kids three time zones away. A teenager from Boston, Manhattan or Jakarta is going to pay a far higher tuition than a kid from Fresno. According to stats I found on CollegeBoard.com, a California student's tuition and fees at UC Berkeley is $8,325 versus $30,346 for everybody else. With state support continuing to erode, the elite UC campuses can generate a heck of a lot more cash by reeling in rich outsiders who won't flinch at the price.

So what should California kids do? Just as I told my sister, I think families in this state - or any other state where the public universities are cutting back admission spots -- should widen their search. In California, 84% of students attend the state's public universities and colleges even though amazing opportunities exist elsewhere.

Lots of private schools, as well as other public universities across the country, would love to hear from "B" students from California. And plenty of these schools wouldn't hesitate to give these "B" students scholarships.

West Coast kids are hot just about everywhere but California, where there are simply too many of them. You won't find these opportunities, however, unless you start looking.

UC Berkeley image by msanford. CC 2.0.

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