What Happens to Cal State

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The College Guide has written a lot of stories lately about the increasing cost of California’s public colleges. But a recent article in Inside Higher Ed demonstrates pretty well why this matters so much. It is not just that the University of California will now cost $3,000 a year more to attend; no, the real change is that the California State University schools have now gotten competitive:

Here’s the big story in admissions this year: The nation’s largest higher education system (and its most diverse) is shifting from being de facto a non-competitive admissions university to a competitive one. Getting into the California State University System’s 23 campuses (which educate 450,000 students) has just become iffy for many — especially for those attracted to certain campuses and certain majors.

This is not because Cal State decided to become a selective school. Cal State is becoming competitive because budget cuts mean Cal State administrators had to reduce the school’s size.

As the article explains, Cal State has very specific admissions requirements. This means that getting into the school has never been a mystery. Virtually all applicants are qualified for admission. As of yesterday, California State University schools have 419,000 applications. But the school only educates 450,000 students. This means that the school will be forced to move to competitive admissions.

The change here is that while it will still be much easier to get into Cal State than one of the University of California schools, California students who previously planned for a University of California school may gravitate toward Cal State. This makes admissions more competitive for everyone.

At Cal State, administrators are now grappling with how to do competitive admissions. Schools had previously focused on geography—they gave top priority to students from nearby—but with applications up from all over the state, they may need a new plan.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer