The 2004 incoming freshman class has a higher average GPA and a more diverse ethnic makeup than the last three freshman classes, but budget cuts to outreach programs may hinder the diversity of future classes.

Preliminary reports compiled by the Office of Admissions show an overall increase in academic achievement and ethnic diversity among the 4,084 admitted students. The 2004 incoming class boasts a 3.81 average high school GPA, an improvement on last year’s 3.71 average. Between 2001 and 2003, incoming freshman classes averaged a 3.72 GPA. Incoming freshmen in 2004 are more ethnically diverse than entering classes of past years; 44 percent report coming from a minority background, a five percent gain from last year’s level of 39 percent.

Chancellor Henry Yang said the university’s commitment to creating and maintaining a diverse atmosphere contributed to the increase in minorities enrolled at UCSB.

“Our diversity and quality have been consistently improving in the past ten years,” Yang said. “UCSB is strongly committed to socioeconomic and ethnic diversity. As a result of all our efforts, the number of Chicana/Chicano, Latina/Latino, African-American and American Indian students as a percentage of total enrollment has increased steadily, from 15.25 percent in 1994 to 21 percent in 2003.”

Of the 1,759 students that classified themselves as being of minority background in 2004, 1 percent are American Indian or Alaskan natives and 3 percent are black, which are the same average percentages enrolled between 2001 and 2003.

This year, 15 percent of incoming freshmen are Chicano; 5 percent are Latino; and 18 percent are of Asian, Pacific Islander, East Indian or Pakistani backgrounds. Between 2001 and 2003, an average of 13 percent of incoming students were Chicano; 5 percent were Latino; and 15 percent were of Asian, Pacific Islander, East Indian or Pakistani background.

In 2004, 2 percent classified themselves as “other,” while 261 students declined to state their ethnicity and 55 students identified themselves as “foreign.” Between 2001 and 2003, an average of 2 percent identified themselves as other, an average of 290 declined to state their ethnicity, and an average of 41 students identified themselves as foreign.

Director of Campus Outreach Initiative Joe Castro said his office’s efforts helped boost campus diversity levels. The university’s campus outreach program assists socially and economically disadvantaged students, ranging from elementary to college-aged, in their pursuit of higher education.

“We target students from low-income families that have not historically participated in higher education,” Castro said. “That cuts across racial and ethnic groups. However, because of the communities we work with, those same students happen to be students of color. Our efforts have been very successful.”

Castro said, however, that past budget cuts to the budgets of outreach programs and the current cuts proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger threaten the university’s success in maintaining and increasing diversity.

“It’s possible that the cuts to our funding could [affect campus diversity levels],” he said. “Many of the people we help are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Because of the areas we serve, many of those students are from minority backgrounds. If we can’t serve them, it’s possible that fewer can come to UCSB. I hope we don’t run into that, but it’s very possible.”

In the past four years, UC-wide campus outreach has experienced a chain of budget cuts, resulting in a net loss of approximately $44 million, dropping the allotted funding from its 2001 peak of $77 million to $33 million in the 2003-04 fiscal year. For UCSB, this translated to an allotment of $2 million dollars in permanent funds for the 2003-04 fiscal year.

Castro said Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision further cuts UC-wide outreach funds down to $12 million. It is unknown how much money the shrunken budget will give to UCSB’s outreach programs, and Castro will have to wait until July 1 to see the permanent budget breakdown.

“Between now and July 1 the governor and the legislature will discuss [outreach funding], among other issues,” he said. “They may increase it – we really hope they will.”

Without a budget increase, Castro said he worries that several of outreach programs, such as the Early Academic Outreach Program and the Student Initiated Outreach Program, both of which provide funding and programs to help disadvantaged middle school and high school students prepare for college entrance, will be negatively affected.

But a recent petition authored by outreach supporters and signed by Yang offers some hope for advocates of increased outreach funding. In signing the petition, Yang pledged his commitment to alleviating the outreach budget crisis by finding at least $3 million to fund the program. Yang said any additional money would most likely come from private funding.

“We are continuing our efforts, along with those of the Office of the President, the chancellors, alumni and friends, to work with the governor’s office and the legislature to restore outreach funding,” Yang said. “The university will also seek matching funds from the private sector to maximize the resources available for these programs. We are committed to having a strong outreach program at UCSB.”

Castro said he remains hopeful as a result of this recent development.

“What’s great about this is that we’re now seeing the chancellor and student leadership expressing mutual concern and commitment to the success of the outreach program,” he said.