I am all for the UC accommodating as many new students as is reasonable in 2010-11. However, I urge caution to the UC Regents, Office of the President (OP) and campus administrators as they prepare to make future student enrollment decisions based on promised funds the state may ultimately have no choice but to rescind months after campuses have accepted a larger class of incoming students.

In a recent article “UC to cut fewer freshmen from fall 2010 enrollment” published in the UC’s Our University newsletter (Jan. 20, 2010), it is stated that the UC is preparing to roll back its enrollment reduction target for Fall 2010 in recognition of promised increases in state funding. UC had originally planned to reduce an additional 2,300 students for the 2010-11 class (2,300 were cut in 2009-10); but based on the governor’s proposed 2010-11 budget they now hope to lower this number. However, the same article states that “presently the UC currently has more than 15,000 students for whom the state provides no funding.” This means that even if the UC system stuck with its original 2,300 cut, they would still need additional funding for 12,700 students.

The UC justifies the decrease in number of eliminated freshman spaces for Fall 2010 based on the governor’s proposed $370 million budget increase above the amount granted in the 2009-10 allocation. This may sound like good news, but even with this increase, the total would still be 60 percent short of the $913 million requested by UC to balance its budget. Yet, this overwhelming deficit is still the best-case scenario: there is no guarantee the full $370 million will be awarded.

Compounding the problem is the fact the California legislature and governor do not normally approve the state and UC budget until June, long after the campuses have already gone through the admissions process and sent out acceptance letters to the next year’s freshmen. One wrong calculation on the number of accepted freshmen could swell the ranks of non-state funded students and impact campuses’ ability to offer undergraduate instruction.

One only needs to look at what happened at UCSB this past year as an example of how wishful thinking about state funding can ultimately have dire consequences on undergraduate education.

In late 2008, the Regents and OP reluctantly decided to reduce the system wide number of incoming 2009 freshmen by approximately 2,700. UCSB’s share of these cuts was roughly 400 freshmen. However, due to the campus Admissions Office’s miscalculation of the anticipated freshman acceptance rate, UCSB actually ended up with roughly 400 more incoming students enrolled than the previous fall. Not realizing this until June, it was too late to rescind the acceptance letters and UCSB accepted a net increase in its incoming class of almost 800 students over than had been budgeted for.

The consequences of this error have been disastrous for undergraduate education at UCSB. In a recent Daily Nexus article entitled “Pupils Face Course Shortage” (Jan. 21, 2010) it was stated “UCSB cut 160 classes this quarter… This cut amounts to an 8 percent course reduction when compared to last year’s curriculum.” Furthermore, campus crowding has also taken a toll on the race for units, with the student count up from 18,180 to 19,033 over the past year.

UCSB’s inability to reduce its student population, even when ordered to do so by OP, demonstrates the difficulties campus administrators have with calculating budgets and estimating their student populations.

Thus, I am wary of the fact that OP and the UC Regents are now considering rolling back the enrollment reduction based on the hopes that the state will reimburse its schools after the cuts instituted last year. With a projected state deficit of close to $20 billion in 2011, how realistic is it that UC will actually see any extra money by June?

Extreme caution must be exercised when campuses calculate their acceptance rate for 2010-11. I know UCSB cannot afford another miscalculation regarding its student population and I seriously doubt our sister campuses can absorb similar over-enrollments without proper funding. I urge the UC Regents and OP to err on the side of caution and put into place policies and safeguards such as required waitlists to guarantee that enrollments do not exceed the number of students the state can afford.