UCLA is the most applied-to university in the nation. This past year, nearly 168,000 freshmen and transfer students applied for admission to our school — a 24.6% increase over the number who applied the year before. We were able to admit about 20,000 of these students and, ultimately, to enroll 10,000 of them this fall.
On the one hand, the surging number of applications UCLA receives is a testament to the remarkable value of the UCLA experience. Students know that coming to Westwood is a life-changing opportunity, a chance to learn and grow in a dynamic environment alongside a diverse set of impressive peers and some of the world’s leading thinkers. And our low admission rate means we’re truly able to admit the best of the best.
Yet on the other hand, as entrepreneur, professor, podcaster and UCLA alumnus Scott Galloway ’87 has written about extensively, a low admission rate is also a high rejection rate. If public institutions like UCLA have a special charge to provide both excellent and accessible higher education — and we do — the fact that we admit only a fraction of the qualified students who wish to come here is cause for concern.
This issue is not unique to UCLA, and I am grateful that the Regents of the University of California and UC President Michael Drake recognize the need for our system to reach more students. In fact, President Drake has asked the chancellors at the 10 UC campuses to develop plans to collectively enroll 20,000 more students across the system by 2030.
“We should take pride in what this push for growth represents: People want to come to UCLA because the education we provide makes a huge difference in their lives.”
The question before us, then, is how to grow. Some UC campuses, like Riverside and Merced, have the space and ambition to increase their enrollment by bringing in many more freshmen and transfer students. UCLA, however, has the smallest physical footprint of any of the UCs, and simply enrolling thousands of new students would put pressure on campus infrastructure, class sizes and UCLA’s support services. This doesn’t relieve us of our duty and obligation to grow — it just invites us to be more creative about how we do it.
There are many paths before us. Certainly, UCLA can invest in continuing to close graduation gaps and improve graduation rates, which would allow us to cycle more students into our university as others finish their studies. In a similar vein, we may be able to augment our summer quarter academic offerings, which would aid those who wish to make quicker progress toward their degrees and give us space for new learners.
Other ideas might require a more significant reimagining of the UCLA experience. Perhaps we can use what we’ve learned about remote education to increase online or hybrid offerings, allowing us to reach additional students while limiting the stress on our main campus. For some, the UCLA experience of the future might not be four years in Westwood, but three years on campus and one year teaching in a downtown Los Angeles public school or conducting research in the Congo Basin in Central Africa while taking a remote class in the evening.
We could also explore options like investing in a satellite campus, which institutions like Stanford and Northeastern recently have done, letting us expand our physical presence and providing more room for growth.
All of these ideas, and others, are on the table as the UCLA administration and Academic Senate consider how our institution should grow to better meet our public mandate.
Any such changes will be major ones, and I have no doubt that there will be challenges associated with them. But we should take pride in what this push for growth represents: People want to come to UCLA because the education we provide makes a huge difference in their lives. Furthermore, we need more people in California and the world who are educated at the level we provide, imbued with our characteristic Bruin optimism and with our strong sense of civic duty.
I will keep you apprised as our plans develop. However we make it happen, though, it is surely our responsibility to bring the shining light of UCLA to more students. Fiat Lux!
Read more from UCLA Magazine's January 2022 issue.