Fed up with tuition increases and frustrated by rejection at packed California universities, more high school graduates than ever are ditching the state to attend college.
Boise State saw its freshmen enrollment from California rise tenfold during the last decade. Arizona State doubled its enrollment of freshmen from California. The University of Oregon has quadrupled it, with freshman enrollment from California growing from 280 in 2000 to 1,100 in 2010.
"We are thrilled with the students we get out of California," said Roger Thompson, vice provost at the University of Oregon. "We've seen remarkable growth, predominantly out of Northern California."
The trend, revealed in a Bee review of federal data, comes as the University of California system has stepped up its own efforts to attract out-of-state students. Despite those moves, taken largely to pay the bills, the number of students leaving the state for a four-year college far outpaces the number coming here.
California does not have a surplus of college students, and it will need hundreds of thousands more in coming years to sustain its economy, several researchers said. Large numbers of students leaving the state represent a threat, albeit fledgling, to California's future, particularly if many don't return.
"These numbers are in the wrong direction for the state," said Hans Johnson, a researcher with the Public Policy Institute of California. Johnson estimates California will have 1 million fewer college graduates by 2025 than its industries will require.
The increased numbers of students coming and going are crossing paths on a trail blazed by budget woes.
Tuition and fees at California's two public college systems have more than tripled in the last decade, narrowing the still-large gap between in-state tuition at a public California college and out-of-state tuition at many similar colleges.
Capacity for California students isn't growing, even as more Californians seek a college education. The state's two college systems enrolled fewer California freshmen in 2010 than they did in 2006.
And the constant cycle of tuition increases, cuts and protests has damaged the reputation of the state's public colleges, several high school students and guidance counselors said.
All told, 27,300 California high school graduates started college at an out-of-state, four-year university in 2010, up 90 percent from 2000, according to the latest data submitted by colleges to the U.S. Department of Education.
Almost three times as many high school grads left California for a four-year college than came here from other states in 2010.
Attending ASU adds up
Nowhere is the trend clearer than at Arizona State University, which enrolled about 1,110 California freshmen in 2010 – more than several California State University campuses.
Austin Jack will soon join their ranks.
A graduating senior at Franklin High in Elk Grove, Jack boasts a grade point average of 3.8. That was enough to get him into Arizona State, even though he was rejected by San Diego State and California State Polytechnic University.
Jack decided not to attend other CSU schools, saying their application process doesn't account enough for extracurricular activities, and that the system is too crowded.
"I want to graduate in four years," he said. "It's so difficult to get classes at CSU."
At several CSU campuses, fewer than 10 percent of students graduate in four years, federal data show. Arizona State graduates about 30 percent of students that quickly.
An extra year or two in college can make a big financial difference.
If Jack graduates from Arizona State in four years and immediately takes a job paying $45,000 annually, he'll recoup most of the difference in cost he would have incurred during five years at a CSU campus. He'll be making money during that fifth year instead of sitting in class.
That's the sort of math Glen Anderson, an Arizona State sophomore and graduate of Jesuit High School in Carmichael, is counting on.
"I'm on pace to get out in three-and-a-half years with a major and a minor," he said. "They open up more class sections until they don't fill any more."
CSU officials said the issues raised by Jack and others are legitimate concerns.
"It's a reflection of our current budget environment," said CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. "We've had to increase requirements for students to get in; we've had to cut classes."
Out-of-state tuition at Arizona State is about $22,000, compared with in-state tuition of about $6,500 at a CSU campus. Like other out-of-state colleges, Arizona State sometimes softens the pain of out-of-state tuition with scholarships and other financial aid.
"With the help they gave me, it was about equal to San Diego State," said Tim Phillips, a classmate of Jack, who will also attend Arizona State.
Arizona State employs several recruiters who work exclusively in California. They often talk to prospective students about costs and the relative ease of getting classes.
"Our price is fairly affordable for California residents, coupled with scholarships and financial assistance," said Kent Hopkins, vice provost for enrollment management at Arizona State.
Out-of-state private schools also benefit from California's recent budget woes. About 16,000 new high school graduates from California attended those schools in 2010, up 75 percent from a decade prior.
The trend is driven by schools such as New York University, Boston University and Syracuse University – with admission standards approaching or exceeding those of many University of California campuses.
Private schools beckon
Gabriela Reynaga, a graduating senior at Kennedy High School, will attend New York University in the fall. She said state cuts were a factor in her decision to leave California.
"In-state tuition is going way up and quality is going down," she said.
On paper, tuition and fees at NYU top $40,000. In practice, the school has a healthy endowment and often provides scholarships and grants to incoming freshmen. Reynaga will receive about $30,000 in financial aid, she said.
NYU enrolled almost 600 California freshmen in 2010, about double the number from a decade prior.
"I'm getting some help from NYU – 25 grand," said Gregory Fang, another Kennedy High graduating senior who will attend NYU. Fang plans to study finance, and figures New York City is the best place to do that. "I'm really confused as to why more people don't go out of state."
Small liberal arts colleges – such as Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Lewis & Clark College in Oregon and Williams College in Massachusetts – have seen California student enrollment nearly double in the last decade.
"Setting and location are really big to me," said Jessica Feng, a Kennedy High student who will attend Haverford College in Pennsylvania, which has seen a 40 percent increase in California freshmen in the last 10 years. "I applied to all the UCs, but I was attracted to a smaller setting."
Several education experts said these trends will continue as long as California's public colleges raise prices faster than their out-of-state counterparts, and as admissions standards increase due to lack of capacity.
Last week, top officials at the state's public colleges warned of more tuition increases and enrollment cuts if lawmakers again cut funding.
"The more selective we get, the more students are likely to go to an Arizona State or the University of Washington," said Michal Kurlaender, a UC Davis professor of education who has written extensively about college access.
Several education experts said the flow of graduates elsewhere raises a related question: What about students who don't get into a California college but can't afford an out-of-state degree?
"The real concern is if people don't go to college," said Nancy Shulock, professor and executive director for the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at California State University, Sacramento. "We are well on that track."
Programs such as the Western Undergraduate Exchange, which lets out-of-state students pay just 150 percent of in-state tuition, help, but those programs are often restricted to certain majors and draw a few thousand California freshmen each year.
The community college system is a well-used outlet, too, but junior colleges are packed, and college transfer classes are often full. Also, out-of-state schools increasingly recruit transfer students from California community colleges.
The worst-case scenario for California is that a large number of students who leave the state for college don't return, leading to "brain drain."
We're not there yet. Even during the recession, more young college graduates moved to the state than left it, census figures show.
California still retains a higher rate of high school graduates than many other states, including New York. It's fallen from near the top to the middle of the pack.
But California needs all the college graduates it can get, said Thad Domina, assistant professor of education at UC Irvine.
"The creation of human capital," he said, "is a major driver for economic growth."