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Azcentral reporters and editor talk about their experience paying for college and how students can help stem the cost of classes.

California’s loss is Arizona’s gain, at least when it comes to public college students. 

As California’s public universities have turned away tens of thousands of qualified applicants annually, Arizona has seen its numbers of California transplants grow, bringing with them higher tuition payments. 

Four-year schools in Arizona receive more incoming California students than any other statein the country, with more than 5,000 new freshmen from California enrolled in 2016, the most recent figures available from the U.S. Department of Education.

Four of the top five schools where California freshmen go out of state are in Arizona: the three public universities and Grand Canyon University, according to 2016 Department of Education data. 

Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University all enrolled more than 1,000 first-time freshmen from California this school year. 

By contrast, about 130 first-time freshmen from Arizona enrolled in the University of California system in fall 2017 and about 160 new freshmen enrolled in California State University schools that year. 

Some California students, like Chris Cronin, said Arizona offered less crowding and a lower cost of living. Cronin is the first person in his family to go to college outside of California.

Cronin, an ASU junior studying political science and justice studies, applied to six schools in the California State University system — and ASU.

From Rancho Cucamonga, Cronin thought he wanted to study criminal justice at San Diego State University, but the program was competitive. He was rejected, appealed the rejection, and was accepted.

But he decided to go to ASU instead, where there seemed to be more opportunities and options for majors.

ASU has 10 recruiters based throughout California, up from four in 2013, with most focusing on first-time freshmen. UA has three full-time recruiters there, in San Diego, Orange County and Northern California. NAU holds orientation sessions in Anaheim and San Diego.

Calif. systems turn away thousands

There are two public four-year college systems in California, the University of California system and the California State University system. There’s also the two-year California Community College system. 

The two university systems turned away more than 40,000 qualified California applicants from their school of choice last year. 

The California State University system, comprising 23 campuses, turned away more than 30,000 California students who were qualified for admission in 2017.

That doesn’t necessarily mean all of those students left the state — they could have gone to non-CSU schools in California.

The trend shows no signs of slowing, said Nathan Evans, chief of staff for the CSU chancellor’s office. 

A recent report from Inside Higher Ed warned of an even more competitive admissions cycle this year. While UCLA and UC-Berkeley have long been highly competitive, other UC and some CSU schools previously seen as more accessible, like Davis or Santa Barbara, have rejected students who saw the campuses as safety schools, the report said. 

CSU refers to its full campuses as “impacted,” meaning there are more qualified applicants than spaces available. Various majors at CSU campuses are impacted as well, making admission in those programs more difficult.

It can be hard to find classes with available space, which some students worry will not let them graduate on time.

Only 6 of the 23 campuses are not impacted for first-time freshmen.

In the 10-campus UC system, more than 10,000 California high school students who were guaranteed admission because they ranked in the top 9 percent of their class or in the state didn’t get into their school of choice in the 2017-18 school year, said Dianne Klein, the press secretary for the UC president’s office. 

Those students were then referred to the only UC campus with available space, University of California at Merced. Only 119 of those students chose to enroll at Merced, which is in a more rural setting than many of the other UC campuses.

“Applications from California students to the University of California have increased every year since 2012, and show no signs of slowing,” Klein said. 

The UC system enrolls more California students now than at any point in its history, Klein said.

Trend of Californians leaving will continue

The Public Policy Institute of California has repeatedly highlighted the need for increased access to California’s higher education system.

As California’s population has grown, the number of California high school graduates eligible for admission to California public universities also has increased. But the students are now competing for limited slots, pushing more than 36,000 California students to leave the state for college, PPIC reported.

Colleges and education policy groups cite the trend of students leaving California for school when advocating for funding from the legislature and governor’s office, Evans said.

If the trend of students leaving the state continues, there’s a worry California could lack college graduates to fill its jobs, Evans said, saying public policy researchers have studied the potential impact

“That is absolutely a concern,” he said.

Arizona schools recruit Californians

Ernesto Hernandez, a senior majoring in public service and public policy at ASU, applied to a few public universities in California, but said ASU was his first choice. California schools, especially those in the UC system, focus a lot on research, he said, but he wanted a school that invested in its students.

Hernandez, from Los Angeles, said ASU was far enough away from home that he could be independent, but still go visit on the weekends if he wanted.

“If I were to weigh the pros and cons, to me, I don’t see any cons,” he said.

The lack of space for certain majors and at certain campuses in California was well-known to Hernandez.

He originally wanted to study psychology. But when he was applying for college, admissions counselors told him it would be easier to be admitted to other programs with more space at California universities, then change his major later, after he was accepted.

The idea didn’t sit well with him, and helped steer him away from California schools.

New freshmen enrollment by California students at ASU reached a peak in 2015, when more than 1,400 freshmen signed up for ASU classes. The number of new freshmen was down slightly to 1,148 in fall 2017. Ten years earlier, in 2007, 739 first-time freshmen came to ASU.

Total enrollment from California has skyrocketed at ASU. Fall 2017 saw more than 12,000 California students enrolled at ASU, both on campus and online. In 2007, that number was less than 2,800.

Matt Lopez, assistant vice president for enrollment services at ASU, said recruiters hear comments from students about not being able to get into their top choices in California. They also hear worries of not being able to graduate on time and housing woes, he said.

Lopez said the school has set up programs that help students in California’s community college system have a path to enrollment in specific majors at ASU, which also has helped enrollment.

Arizona schools see Calif. opportunity

ASU sees a responsibility to offer students a chance at a degree, despite capacity issues at California schools, Lopez said.

“We have an explicit interest in ensuring that students have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree,” he said.

UA saw its highest California freshmen enrollment in 2015 as well, with nearly 1,500 students. Preliminary numbers for this fall show about 1,300 California students enrolled. Total California enrollment was nearly 4,300 in 2017, compared with about 3,200 a decade earlier.

UA has always had a strong base in California, said Kasey Urquidez, dean of undergraduate admissions at the university.

“Students tend to think of Arizona as kind of an extension of California almost. We often hear UC-Arizona for UA,” she said.

Recruiters for UA heard more about affected majors and overcrowding in the California systems a few years ago, though students still bring those topics up as concerns, Urquidez said.

High school counselors in California tend to look more broadly across the West when advising, knowing there are impacted campuses and majors making acceptance more difficult in California, she said.

NAU has seen its total California enrollment more than triple since 2008. Fall 2017 saw nearly 4,900 students from California, compared with 1,490 in fall 2008. First-time freshmen totaled 1,160 in fall 2016, compared with 213 in fall 2006.

NAU saw its highest California first-time freshmen enrollment in fall 2013, with 1,268 students.

Tuition costs for out-of-state students

Out-of-state students provide a financial boon to Arizona universities, in addition to diversifying campus, a priority for many schools in recent years.

The fact that California students pay higher tuition plays a role in ASU’s interest in recruiting them, Lopez said.

At ASU, out-of-state students pay $28,336 per year for tuition and fees, while in-state students pay $10,822. The UC system estimates tuition and fees of $13,900 for California residents this year. CSU tuition is $5,742 for California residents.

Hernandez has controlled costs as an out-of-state student through scholarships and other financial aid. He gets free room and board since he works in university housing. 

When he first started at ASU, he qualified for a lower tuition rate of 150 percent of in-state tuition through the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which lowers tuition for students in western states.  

He will graduate with about $20,000 in debt, which he said is “honestly nothing” compared with the high debt loads of other students.

When deciding on schools, Cronin, of Rancho Cucamonga, said he compared the cost of an education at a CSU school against ASU’s financial aid package. 

He would have to pay about $25,000 after scholarships and other aid either way, he said. 

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Higher education reporter Anne Ryman of The Arizona Republic gives five tips to find free money for college. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com

Will they stay in Arizona?

Though Arizona schools have brought in California students, it’s not clear how many of those transplants will stay in Arizona after graduation.

Urquidez said UA doesn’t have specific data on where California students go after they graduate, but anecdotally, alums tend to return to the Golden State.

“Not all, but we definitely see that a lot of students go back,” she said.

Hernandez wants to get a master’s degree in public administration next, also at ASU, and potentially get a Ph.D. here, too. First, he plans to take a gap year after graduation and work for AmeriCorps, the national service program.

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But he likely won’t stay in Arizona once his schooling is over.

“I do want to come back to Los Angeles for work. Los Angeles is home for me,” Hernandez said.

Cronin said he’s open to staying in Arizona, though he has his sights set on Colorado because of its weather and recreational options. He said Phoenix exposed him to a different kind of urban setting, where it’s easier to navigate and he can walk from home to school.

“As far as going back to California, I wouldn’t want to because of the cost of living and how crowded it is out there,” he said.

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