University of California Plans to Use Wait List for Incoming Freshmen

The University of California is planning to place some incoming freshmen on wait lists for the 2010 academic year to address uncertainties in the state's higher education budget. This would be the first time in history that the university system is considering a wait list, and more than 1,000 students may be affected by the change.

According to an article in The Daily Californian, the wait list would allow the school to be flexible in the number of students it enrolls for the upcoming school year. Enrollment numbers may change depending on state funding available; the decision to increase enrollments is dependent on the more than $51 million in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget. That $51 million would fund 5,121 out of around 14,000 currently unfunded enrollments. Last month, Schwarzenegger proposed restoring $370 million to the university in his budget, and also proposed a a constitutional amendment that would earmark at least 10 percent of the state's general fund to higher education.

Wait lists are typically more common at private institutions where enrollment numbers are much lower and the unpredictability of students' decisions about whether to enroll in those private schools is much higher. An interview with Nina Robinson, the university’s director of student policy and external affairs, in the New York Times last week, looked at the unstable environment at schools across the state of California, and what a wait list could mean for students looking to attend colleges there.

Robinson said the wait lists would help the school hit their enrollment numbers without over-enrolling students, which has contributed to budget shortfalls. "It’s one thing to over-enroll 100 students if you’re going to get the funding for them anyway, but now if you’re adding 100 students and you‘re already over enrolled 1,000 students, that’s a serious problem," she said in the interview. Robinson also suggested a wait list may lead applicants to think space at the University of California is more scarce, allowing them to plan accordingly and apply to more "Plan B" schools.

Whether this would be a temporary change or a more permanent one is difficult to tell. California's financial woes go far deeper than over-enrollment at the University of California, and the lack of state support up to this point has made it difficult for the university system to avoid fee increases - the state's Board of Regents approved a fee increase that would raise costs by at least $2,500, or 32 percent - and turning away transfer students. Whether those students placed on a wait list face a good chance to eventually gain admission to the school is also difficult to tell, and largely dependent on the state's budget, something administrators won't know until well into the fall semester. Typically, a student’s odds of getting admitted off a wait list is about 1 in 3. If you're concerned about your chances, or if you intend to attend the University of California, it may not be a bad idea to expand that college search.

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