What’s Driving High School Seniors out of California?


Californians who want to go to a university might be priced out of their own state’s schools.

Carson Thomas, Editor in Chief

There once was a time when Californians boasted about housing one of the greatest educational systems in the nation. It consisted of low-cost access to some of the top universities in the country while allowing students to stay somewhat close to home.

Today, this is no longer the case, as California students now search for higher-education outside of the Golden State at historic rates. In fact, about four times as many Californians leave their home state for college than those who move in to attend UCs and CSUs from out of state.

Only a decade ago, 94 percent of the freshman at UCLA were Californians, according to Nick Anderson and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of the Washington Post. Now, 10 years later, that number has dropped to 73 percent. These stats reflect a large shift in an increasingly popular “out-of-state” movement for California residents, and there are many signals that the state’s public university systems are to blame.

A 246 page “California’s Master Plan For Higher Education”, prepared by the California State Board of Education in 1960, built the framework for a system to ensure that all Californians would have access to education beyond high school. While it did create the foundation for the UC and California State University systems, there was never a long term plan established that was dedicated to making California residents a priority. Instead, the focus shifted to revenue.

Large state funding cuts have played a role in the money-driven direction that higher education institutions have taken over the past decade. According to the University of California website, the estimated cost for residents attending a UC per year is $34,000, whereas the nonresident price totals to about $60,000. That means that by accepting an out-of-state student over an in-state student, the university gets an extra $104,000 dollars after four years for that student alone.

It goes without mentioning that it has become increasingly difficult to get a degree at a public university in four years, thus meaning the profit margin only escalates for each year students have to stay in school until they get their degrees. This has caused many in-state students to lose spots to out-of-state and international students who are willing to pay large sums of money for the prestige of a California university.

On the flip side, out-of-state institutions are beginning to take advantage of residents looking for education outside of California by offering higher acceptance rates, cheap nonresident tuition and loads of merit dollars and academic scholarships. For example, the University of Arizona, one of the most popular out-of-state destinations for California students, offered nonresident tuition for the 2015-2016 school year for $47,000. Along with that, there are guaranteed out-of-state student merit scholarships worth up to $20,000 a year for students who meet specific GPA, SAT and ACT requirements. The scholarship is also guaranteed through all four years. Schools, such as Arizona and Oregon State to name a few, have even created entire web pages for California students, whereas others, like New Mexico, have dedicated large amounts of personnel in their admissions departments specifically for recruiting California students. Other schools, like Boise State, the University of Nevada Reno and Oregon, have drawn many Vista–and California students for that matter–for the exact same reasons.

To cap it off, certain programs dedicated to granting affordable access to out-of-state institutions, such as the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and its popular WUE scholarship, allows for students to attend a number of universities for only 50 percent more than the resident tuition.  Emily Anderson, a senior at Vista who will be one of a large group of students attending Boise State, said one of her primary reasons for going out-of-state was because “it was cheaper due to WUE scholarships and it was easier to get into than a California school.”

The CSUs offer a more friendly tuition rate to in-state students, averaging at about $24,000 a year. Unlike the UCs, the California State University system has remained a good option for residents who are looking for a quality education. It has its own level of prestige, with four of the 22 state schools having an acceptance rate between 30-40 percent (Long Beach, San Diego, Cal Poly SLO and Cal Poly Pomona).

Schools such as Cal Poly and San Diego State have been extremely popular options for students at Vista del Lago. Nonetheless, the CSUs tend to be smaller, sometimes lacking the appeal of a big-time university. Many students seek that rich college experience of tradition and school pride that a majority of the CSUs can’t quite provide despite granting access to a fairly strong education.

However, it is not simply the education you get in college, but rather where and how you get it. In today’s age, many students are forced to consider schools based on the majors they offer. This can be a problem for students seeking degrees in areas not covered by the California schools. A school such as UCLA, which does not offer a traditional undergraduate business major, is clearly not a good fit for a student planning to earn their degree in business. This has become a common issue for the UC and CSU systems, as many of the schools are primarily science and research driven during an era where knowledge of technology, communications and management are becoming vital for success post-graduation. Students who recognize this are instead looking at schools such as the University of Texas in Austin for the rising tech scene, or the University of Oregon for their connections to huge companies, such as Nike.  

Whether a student leaves or stays, it is hard to deny that the public universities of California have strayed away from their original purpose. During a campaign stop in California, Hillary Clinton said, “We have got to get back to using public colleges and universities for what they were intended. If it is in California, for the children in California.” Until that happens, expect this out-of-state trend to continue both at Vista as well as high schools across California.