Last year, the California State University system turned away more than 30,000 eligible California students. Also in 2017, the University of California campuses turned away more than 10,000 eligible applicants from their schools of choice. The reason is “impaction” as these systems struggle to accommodate qualified residents.

So what is impaction? It means that either the campus is already overcrowded, and/or it does not have the budget so it has to turn away students. Impaction allows campuses to use different criteria for admission, such as SAT/ACT scores, to control the number of entering students. Disturbingly, six of the 23 CSU campuses are totally impacted, while some CSU campuses are partially impacted by restricting access to some of their majors. 

Several recent articles have documented this impaction and its consequences, including that many of these resident students are leaving California and therefore paying out-of-state tuition. This trend could impact the state’s economy in the future if these graduates do not return to California.

What the articles have not mentioned is that there is another, often less expensive alternative to attending an out-of-state public university: attend a private university in California. Let me explain.

Many California students are leaving for state universities in Arizona, Oregon, and Washington, which are comparable to the CSU system. Out-of-state tuition is typically about twice the rate of in-state tuition. Thus, the typical Arizona, Oregon and Washington state university charges an out-of-state gross tuition ranging from $22,000 to $28,000 a year, excluding room and board, for a freshman domestic student. Typically, an out-of-state student with a good grade point average will be offered scholarships and grants covering about half the tuition per year for a four-year degree, or $11,000 to $14,000 net tuition a year.

To use an example at our private university, a freshman domestic student with a GPA of 3.5 or higher automatically receives a university-sponsored Merit Scholarship of $18,000 a year. Furthermore, this same student, if eligible for Federal and California State financial aid and if the family qualifies for a Zero Expected Family Contribution, would receive in California a total financial aid package of over $34,000 and would pay only $4,800 a year in net tuition. One major component of the calculation is the Cal Grant that an in-state student can receive which can be as high as $9,084 per year. So, clearly it may be more financially attractive to attend the in-California private university than an out-of-state public university.

Going back to the subject of impaction at our CSU and UC campuses, this problem is compounded by a long-term trend toward declining financial support by the state of California for public universities. Data from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that higher education spending made up 18 percent of the state budget in 1976/77, but it had fallen to 12 percent by 2016/17. The UC system has particularly suffered from these funding cuts: funding per full-time-equivalent student fell about 65 percent from about $23,000 to about $8,000 during this 10-year period. CSU funding per student has also fallen by about 25 percent since 1976/77 from about $11,000 per student to about $9,000.

So the message to prospective students and parents in California is: you need to compare the net cost after financial aid of a California private versus a public out-of-state university. Plus one needs to factor in the personalized learning environment of a private institution with an average class size of 14 taught by experienced professors, versus the average class size of 40-plus at a public institution where the teachers are frequently Ph.D. students.

David Steele-Figueredo is president of Woodbury University in Burbank.