Back to the Future: Freshman Admissions at the University of California, 1994 to the Present and Beyond, by Saul Geiser


The past five years have seen unprecedented changes in freshman admissions at the University of California, reflecting steep cuts in state funding that UC sustained during that period as well as changes in UC’s definition of who is eligible to enter the university.  The number of California applicants who were not admitted to the UC system more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, although part of that increase also reflected a change in admissions policies and procedures.  The number of “no shows” – applicants who were admitted but did not attend – increased sharply and for the first time exceeded the number of admits who enrolled at UC.  Most troubling, UC’s “participation rate” – the percentage of California high school graduates who entered UC as freshmen, a key indicator of college access – fell to its lowest level in three decades.  It appears the university may be nearing a pivotal moment in its “social contract” with the people and State of California.   The present study is based on a sample of 1,144,047 California high school graduates who applied for freshman admission at UC between 1994 and 2011; the sample data are augmented, wherever possible, with published data for the 2012 admissions cycle as well.  The study traces the impact of both internal and external factors on UC admissions, including the introduction of multiple filing, changes in university policies on eligibility and admissions, and the long-term decline in state funding for UC that accelerated precipitously with the 2009 recession.  The paper concludes with policy commentary and proposals.  The funding model that has driven UC’s growth since the advent of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education is broken, and a new model is needed if the university is to renew its social contract with California.  In seeking a new funding model, however, the traditional Master Plan construct of eligibility for admission to UC remains as relevant today as it was in 1960 as a foundation upon which to rebuild.

Publication date: 
April 1, 2014
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
BACK TO THE FUTURE: Freshman Admissions at the University of California, 1994 to the Present and Beyond by Saul Geiser CSHE.4.14 (April 2014)