Monday was the deadline to apply for a coveted spot as a University of California student. For certain UC hopefuls, that deadline marked the culmination of years of sleep deprivation and SAT prep, writing-center visits, new extracurriculars, and one last frenzied Thanksgiving break.
But tens of thousands of this year’s UC applicants won’t be admitted to any campus—and at most of the schools, a majority of applicants will get rejection letters.* That applies to both in- and out-of-state students; even some of the brightest and most qualified of the bunch won’t make the cut. The UC system famously ranks among the Ivies and other elite colleges when it comes to selectivity. California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education built exclusivity into the university’s brand, guaranteeing tuition-free admission to the top 12.5 percent of California’s public high-school graduates. Today, even as California’s high-school population grows in size and in ability, the plan’s enrollment thresholds remain fixed in place. The Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit that advocates for access to higher education for all Californians, released a report on Monday suggesting the state is far from providing every in-state student a chance to pursue such education. And according to Michele Siqueiros, the CCO’s president, that means “students need to be virtually perfect to get a spot at the University of California.”
The master plan made a lot of sense back in 1960, the campaign’s report points out. The idea was to distinguish and efficiently provide for each of California’s three higher-ed tiers—the UC, California State University, and community-college systems—while ensuring access to postsecondary education for Californians, regardless of their ability to pay. But times have changed. Tuition at the UCs has nearly doubled since 2000. And today’s applicants simply aren’t “the same students that we were educating in the ‘60s,” said Nina Robinson, the UC’s associate president and chief policy advisor; they’re far more prepared to enter college than their predecessors.