University to reject students

By Becky Bartindale and Kim Vo Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT)

The University of California next month will do something it has never done: reject some 3,200 high school seniors who met all eligibility requirements for freshman admission.

But in April, the applicants will get a letter offering them admission to a UC campus as juniors if they attend a California community college first.

It is the first time the UC system has not been able to accommodate all the eligible freshmen since California adopted the Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960, said Susan Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for the UC system.

UC’s plan to divert students applying for fall admission dovetails with the savings proposal made in January by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Struggling to close a budget gap, the governor called on UC and the California State University system to funnel 10 percent of incoming freshmen to the state’s 108 community colleges. He also proposed waiving their community college fees and funding special academic advising to keep them on track for transfer.

Turning away qualified students who have taken all the required courses and worked hard to get into UC “is a very large disappointment,” Wilbur said, adding she hopes it will only be temporary until the state’s budget picture improves.

Policy experts said the idea is sound, but would work only if the state funds community colleges adequately so that the diverted students don’t push out the traditional students who attend the two-year schools.

Ramy El-Diwany, 17, a senior at Saratoga High School, said it is an offer he would consider, especially if he could get an admission guarantee for one of the UC’s most competitive schools, such as UC-Berkeley or UCLA.

The first two years of classes would probably be about the same at local community colleges and most UC campuses, he figures, so that would not be a problem. What people would miss is the experience of getting away from home, he said.

Ben Wachtel, a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, also likes the idea of guaranteed admission to Berkeley or UCLA, but said he’d probably pass if he had to go to community college first.

“I’d rather get settled into school than move around,” said Wachtel, 17. He said he worries that community colleges wouldn’t have the classes he needs for a molecular biology degree or the rigor to prepare him for the UC system.

Wilbur said she has no idea how many students will go for the deal. The tuition waiver may be an incentive, but UC eligible students often have many higher education options to choose from.

“If they are offered a guarantee at a specific campus it might have some attraction to kids,” said Nancy Elliott, a college adviser at Palo Alto High School.

Eligible students who get rejection letters this month will be reconsidered for admission as juniors at all campuses to which they applied.

If none of their campuses of choice make them an offer, they will be offered admission as juniors to UC-Riverside or UC-Merced, set to open in fall 2005.