Governor Gavin Newsom, California Universities, State Legislature: The Ball is in Your Court to Fix This Scandalous Mess

Momservation: The real college admittance scandal is letting your best and brightest leaders leave this state by the thousands each year.

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Misplaced outrage.

That’s how I see it; this whole college bribing “scandal.”

Why the quotes around scandal?

Because scandal implies that it’s a shocking disgrace, and there was nothing shocking about it to me. There have long been scores of wealthy, privileged, white kids in elite colleges and if you thought they all got there and belonged there legitimately, then I have an unused copy of the Donald Trump Morality, Integrity and Ethics Guidebook I’d like to sell you.

These 30 some-odd students whose parents are modeling bribing, cheating, and racketeering while simultaneously issuing monetary votes of no confidence in their abilities? These are not the kids taking your child’s spot in California universities.

Let me redirect your outrage, shall we?

And even as tempting as it is, it shouldn’t be at the 7,245 out-of-state and international students who were offered your ridiculously overqualified child’s spot at UCLA in 2018. (from UCLA Profile of Admitted Freshmen Fall 2018)

It is squarely on the backs of the California universities and our state government.

The college bribing scandal revealed (ironically, or not ironically, through another form of cheating—an investigation into securities fraud) a disgusting symptom of a lager illness: The California college system is broken.

On many levels.

But since this is a scandal about the admission process into some of my state’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, that’s what we’re going to focus on.

The real scandal is that California universities and state universities are taking California tax payer money set aside for educating our state’s students and then admitting a dwindling amount of them.

It’s that they are making tens of millions of dollars in application fees (UCLA alone had 113,000 students apply in 2018 at $70 a pop) while still raising tuitions.

But the most egregious act against our hyper-qualified California state freshmen college applicants is that our state’s elite colleges are reaping more profits by giving grossly unbalanced admissions to out-of-state and international students who pay hugely inflated tuitions.

But don’t just take my word for it.

According to the San Jose Mercury News in an article published July of 2018, “The number of California freshmen admitted to some of the system’s most elite and selective schools, including UCLA and UC Berkeley continue to drop.”

Last year, UC Davis admitted only 34% of California applicants. Berkeley only 17% and UCLA a stunning 12% of the 71,569 California students who applied.

(Reminder: In-state tuition for California residents for UCLA last year was $13,225. Out-of-state: $28,992.)

Of course, the California universities have long whined that they are forced to do this because they are under-funded by our state government to which our former governor for the last eight years, Jerry Brown, countered that UC officials must live within their means, cut costs and “more creatively engage in the process of making education more affordable.” (Los Angeles Times, “UC regents face showdown with Gov. Brown over proposed increase in tuition and fees” Jan. 2018)

So how have they gotten creative, Jerry?

By telling the majority of uber-high-achieving California students and their tax-paying parents that they have not done enough to walk through the doors of their vaunted institutions.

This is the scandal! This is what makes me fighting mad not just for my two college-age kids but all the California students over the last ten years who have over-extended themselves doing exactly (and then some) what our state universities said would earn them admission only to brand their parents liars for trying to teach “hard work pays off.”

It’s also created an epidemic of anxiety trickling down into primary grades that students must create a “platform” of excellence just to attend college in their state, but then burdening them with a parachute of hopelessness, failure, and inferiority because it was still not enough when they leaped.

“Mom? What more could I have done?” my daughter with the picture-perfect college application asked.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And I hate that my home state has done this psychological bitch-slap to our most talented, high achieving students.

So why are we surprised when a parent ponies up $500,000 to make sure their kid can get into an elite college?

I’m not.

I didn’t go to an “elite” college, but I did go to a California state school. My second year in college my tuition went up 40% in ONE YEAR. Despite now regular raises to California state college tuition—resulting in 350% increase since 1980—that 1990 school year is still the biggest one year jump in fees. It caused California universities to slash staff and therefore classes which were not restored while I was there (and tuition still going up) forcing graduation rates to stall because classes needed to graduate were not being offered. I graduated in 4 ½ years because of this assault on my higher education from our state government.

It’s only gotten worse from there.

Fast forward to 10 years ago when my neighbor complained that her high-achieving daughter was going out-of-state for college because she couldn’t get into a California school. A canary in the coal mine. I naively hoped the trend of using out-of-state/international students to settle budget problems inherited from the Pete Wilson Administration would be solved by the time my kids were applying to college.

It hasn’t been.

I have now witnessed for the last five years that my kids have been in high school—taking Honors and AP classes, maintaining high GPAs, playing sports, participating in clubs and student government, working and volunteering, achieving impressive ACT and SAT scores—our California seniors on the front lines of college applications shot down time and again, being denied access to their state’s universities despite ridiculously impressive college resumes.

(Come on San Diego State with over 90,000 freshmen applications—how do you REALLY select who gains entrance when all you are looking at is a GPA and test scores?!)

And who reaps the benefit of up to 88% of California college applicants not being admitted to their state’s schools of higher learning?

Out-of-state schools. When the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) was implemented in 1987, giving California students an affordable higher education solution because the California rug was being pulled out from under them, our state government should have been paying better attention.


Because now the best and brightest future leaders are leaving California in droves to go to colleges that have been smart enough to throw their doors open to students who will undoubtedly enrich their communities.

And you know what?

Evidence is mounting that once they leave, they don’t come back. They are now in Arizona, and Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington getting their degrees, their experiences, making contacts, putting down roots, securing jobs, purchasing homes, and bringing tax revenue to states smart enough to entice young talent into their communities.

And guess what?

Parents follow. I have one kid now in Boise thinking he has hit the lottery there. Besides absolutely loving his new home, he’s talking about going into real estate to get in on the ground floor of the spectacular growth happening there.

I also have my high school senior who was admitted into UC Santa Barbara in a special reception for Top 10% of Applicants (but who was rejected by UCLA and wait-listed by Berkeley and UC San Diego). But she has been so put off by the process of college admission and seeing her hard working friends be shut out of California universities all together—that she is seriously considering going to University of Hawaii Manoa on nearly a full-ride of WUE scholarships and merit money.

If my kids are going to end up permanently living in Idaho and Hawaii, what does California still hold for me?

Certainly not universities or a state government that values our contributions.

Governor Gavin Newsom…California universities…California state legislature…the ball is in your court to fix this scandalous mess.

#TheRealCollegeAdmissionsScandal   #FixThisMess   #HighAchieversLeavingCA


  1. Regan R Johnson says:

    Excellent and timely article, Kelli. California taxpaying residents should not be in a money fight. I don’t know how to change it, but maybe starting with the Boards of Regents and the legislators, we can get some action. I sense the start of a movement.

    It cost my husband’s family virtually nothing to send him to Berkeley. Room, board and books. Keep up the good fight!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Yes! I couldn’t believe one of our classmates went to Berkeley back in the day for a $75 Activities Fee!

      Thanks for the feedback, Regan! I’d sure like this movement to gain momentum, and maybe now this ridculous celebrity spotlight on this admissions “scandal” will bring these more important problems to the forefront!

  2. christine says:

    Kel – As always your message is on the mark. I am a proud graduate of Cal Poly, SLO though I could never get into this school today. And sadly, my children will not follow in my footsteps because though they are hard working, solid students who have jobs and volunteer their time, don’t have that 4.0++. I am so grateful to the out of state schools who are happily opening their doors to our students. I am equally happy to spend my money in Idaho, where my son goes to college. State of California…are you listening?!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks Christine. It has bummed me out that a school like Cal Poly – who I have MANY alumni friends from – has essentially locked out their alumni’s kids, great kids like yours. CA state schools make me mad because they need to give kids the opportunity to show who they are beyond a GPA and ACT/SAT. My son wasn’t able to show on a CSU application that he had been selected the captain of every sport team he ever played on, nowhere to write that he was a scholar athlete every year since he was a 4-yr varsity athlete, worked as a camp counselor, mentored youth athletes…he was boiled down to a GPA and SAT that should have got him into any state school, but because of shear numbers applying state schools are now using UC requirements for admittance but not using UC application prompts.
      That being said, I love how our boys are thriving in Boise and couldn’t be happier to be there. Everything works out in the end, but CA is missing out on some really great kids.

  3. Ginny Dowd says:

    Well researched, well argued! Thank you for shining a light on a very disheartening, but very important topic!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks Ginny. I have told the story many times over to help all of us parents gain perspective, of your daughter thinking her life was over because she was never going to get into a UC when she got a “B” in an AP class. She couldn’t have been doing anymore, be any more of a shining star. And I remember you saying, “Suddenly, I realized all that matters is that your kid is happy. It doesn’t matter where they go, just that they are happy.” And once your daughter gave herself permission to quit killing herself for a perfect UC profile, she became happier, healthier, and ended up loving where she ended up and thriving – just as we all knew she would. Your kids are amazing and your family has been a role model for just being good people and good things will work out.

  4. Wendy Rountree says:

    You hit the nail on the head! Unfortunately, I’ve been aware of this for a long time Kelli.Tate went to St. John’s University in NYC, graduated and has lived there ever since.They gave him more tuition money and a new computer! Hayden is at Eastern University in Pennsylvania on a track scholarship. Carolina is a UNR and loves it. Everything you said is true and then some. My house is up for sale and we’re moving east as soon as it sells. I will miss certain things about CA, however, I won’t miss the mess that this state has become.Very sad to be honest.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      There it is, Wendy. You are walking proof of this article. Your kids are amazing and I was very aware of them taking their talents and abilities to other states – and of course how much you missed them and how little you got to see them! So as sad as I am to see your house up for sale and knowing you are leaving our community too – no one is surprised when a mother follows her heart to wherever her children carry it.

  5. Amanda says:

    I found it ironic that when this scandal broke that so many schools/ administrators were so quick to point out that they had no idea of any of this and they too were victoms. Really? I am betting the biggest nut in UC budgets is salaries. These professors make 6 figures (mid to high 6 figures) for “teaching” a few classes a week (although many have TA’s teach). Instead of making less money to a do a job that they signed up for coupled with one of the best work schedules out there they would rather screw their own State’s students in favor of Out of State students who bring in higher tuition dollars which in turn funds their lifestyle and retirement benefits. There isn’t much about this system that benefits the kids who work their butts off in hopes that they will get a Yes from their “Dream School” but I do take comfort in watching it all work out the way it should be for my oldest and I will try to keep the faith it will for my youngest as well. As for the honors/AP classes that fill 5 of her 7 blocks next year as a Sophomore? I am just not sure that it is even worth the stress. The “it will be worth it in the end” mantra just isn’t what it used to be.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Like I said, Amanda, it’s broken on many levels. I’d like to see a chart of where all the money is going. What does UCLA, for example, us the $9 million for they generate in admission fees? How much of UC money is going to administrative and wasteful overhead? This is my tax dollars – what am I getting for it?

      As far as students killing themselves with workloads and extra-curriculars – I’ve never been in favor of it. I actually tried to talk my daughter out of taking so many AP classes, and told my son to only take the one he thought would interest/challenge him. I was more interested in my kids having a healthy balance in their life doing things that brought them fulfillment and enjoyment. If it cost them a spot in the UC/CSU system so be it – there are thousands of colleges and paths to success (JC, military, entrepreneur, skilled trades…). But it doesn’t mean I can’t be mad at the system that is shutting CA students out of their state schools even after jumping through all the hoops they say they must. They are lying to our students saying they will be equally considered when they are obviously not.

      If I were to lay out my daughter’s resume here (she would kill me) people would spit out their Starbucks that she not only didn’t get into any school she wanted but wasn’t afforded the merit money she deserved (beyond the WUE schools she got into). But here’s the more important thing for me: she did it all because she enjoyed it. It was who she was. She’s a likable leader, with the ambition, intellect, talent, and chops to back it up. I don’t want to compare my kid to other kids and play the “What does he/she have that my kid doesn’t have?” But that’s what his crazy CA admissions process has done to us.

      What’s worth it in the end, Amanda, is that our kids are happy. And I’m grateful that my kid is happy in her accomplishments and hopeful for her future no matter what the admissions feedback gave her.

    • Theodore Borgerding says:

      Amanda, the average salary for an Assistant Professor (most common level) in the UCal system is $85k. I don’t know where you get your “mid-to-high six figures” idea. And to presume they work a few hours a week is rather ignorant, to put it bluntly.

  6. Pet car says:

    Just a few comments. Only 11% of uc’s budget comes from the state. Colleges do a Ton more for students now than they did 10 or 20 years ago. I think that’s one of the big issues is. Because of those things there are a ton more staff jobs. Staff are mostly underpai,d, but still cost a lot of money.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks PetCar for your thoughts. I do feel I need a breakdown of where the money is going to help level out my frustration. Although someone did make a point on FB, that if your CA kid doesn’t get into a CA school and goes out of state – parents should get a credit or write off. Lots of food for thought…thanks for yours!

  7. Suzanne says:

    Excellent post! Not to nitpick but the tuition cited is tuition AND all living expenses so you might want to correct that. When you look at just tuition the difference between in and out of state is even more apparent (12k vs 28k).

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks for pointing that out Suzanne! I always look at room and board because that’s what I’ll be paying, but you’re right – I need to clarify that. I know it’s always been a lot more for out-of-state tuition. I remember learning how much more my Montana roommate paid to go to our CA school and I was aghast. I couldn’t believe people would bother. If it wasn’t for WUE our choices would be much harder (and maybe Californians would be making a little more noise about this…)

  8. Kate Berger says:

    I think it needs to be noted that this problem is not just a problem in California but in every state, including Pennsylvania where we live. I think it has become a money making business at this point. Many Ivy League schools sit on emense endowments to the point they would never have to charge tuition and yet they do and middle and lower income families can’t get aid to go there. I think we may find the whole system has been corrupted to some extent.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thanks for your input, Kate. Interesting to see it’s not just CA dealing with this frustration. I’ve wondered if the WUE schools are also becoming victims of their own success – I know Boise is getting inundated with CA kids and I can’t imagine Idaho is loving it (as we Californians drive up the price of the real estate). Hopefully this “scandal” will be the first layer of the onion that needs to be peeled back on college admissions.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Christina, I oepn to all ideas. But I have to think it begins with raising our voices and contacting our local congress people. This column has become my 2nd highest viewed column, I think because of our collective outrage. It’s time to push our congress people to refund education at a level that won’t force our UC’s and CSU’s to balance their budgets at our CA students’ expense. Then the Board of Regents needs to be called out for the shameful playing field they’ve created that causes our best and brightest to needlessly burn themselves out before finding refuge in other state’s educational systems.

  9. Jenny says:

    Thank you. This hit squarely at home for me. Aside from the insane admissions process within the UC system, I have been begging someone to investigate the College Board, which determines AP curriculum and makes millions off of it’s teacher training, course materials, tests, as well as submitting the scores of their tests. All of which determine college admission in EVERY state.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Ahhh, another angle that should be explored. I know kids are on a long waiting list for our HS due, in part, to offering the most AP classes in the area. But again, there should be more paths to success than through AP classes. One class a year in an area that intests you should be enough to show, as a student, you are challenging yourself. This 5-AP class load is BS. And even though I know it can count as college credit with some kids graduating a whole year early, I advise any college kid who will listen: Go all 4 years if you can afford it. You have your whole life to work. Use this time to grow. Thanks for stopping by Jenny and giving us your thoughts.

  10. Julianne Kravitz says:

    My daughter had a 3.95 GPA, was in Youth and Government, Manager/helper of her High School Volleyball team for boys and on the volleyball team for girls, Oh! and a Camp counsellor in the summer. The only UC school she got into was UC Santa Cruz, which didn’t have any of her interests…… It’s utterly disgusting. That being said…. City Colleges are fantastic and the transfer rates so much better, maybe it’s time that we focus on that route and save ALL parents a ton of $$$.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Julianne, I think you’re right about the JC route. If we were being smart investors in our kids’ future, it certainly is the best bang for your buck – especially now that Governor Newsom is trying to get the second year free for full-time students, because yes, transfer rates are very good. We need to roll back this agenda/illusion that the only path to success is through a UC and that you must sacrifice all to try to achieve it. There are many paths to success and I’d like to see trade schools, JC’s, military, internships, apprenticeships, and micro-loans for new businesses get their time in the spotlight now… Thanks for your thoughts and stopping by – your daughter sounds like she will bloom wherever she is planted.

  11. E. E. says:

    You say that in-state applicants are “hyper-qualified” (as well as every other word in the thesaurus for “super”), but this is straight up wrong. Out-of-state applicants have higher GPAs, higher ACT/SAT scores, take more honors courses, and have all-around much better applications in every other measurable aspect. International applicants have even higher standards. For example, UCLA stats for this year:

    Average in-state applicant: 3.70 GPA, 23 ACT, 1120 SAT
    Average out-of-state applicant: 4.00 GPA, 29 ACT, 1280 SAT
    Average in-state admit: 4.34 GPA, 29 ACT, 1290 SAT
    Average out-of-state admit: 4.34 GPA, 32 ACT, 1440 SAT
    Average international admit: 33 ACT, 1470 SAT

    So….Exactly how much more special treatment do you want? You mention your daughter had a 3.95 GPA, which is a stat that means very little considering how easy it is to get a 4.00 at some high schools but nearly impossible at other schools.

    I wonder why you didn’t mention her SAT/ACT score. It’s a far more objective measure of an applicant’s intelligence than a GPA.

    Actually, I have a pretty good idea why you left that little detail out. The same reason why other parents complain about standardized tests: because you cannot admit that your precious kid just isn’t as smart as you think they are. It’s always the system’s fault, never your “uber” qualified child’s.

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Hi Eric, I allowed your comment because I think a healthy discource is good. I like you doing your research to try to make your point. But I don’t appreciate you degenerating into throwing petty and personal insults. I purposely kept specific details about my daughter’s qualifications out of this article because I didn’t want it to be about her. It’s about our California college admittance system. And since I wrote this article there has been effective change, with new records set for CA admissions – moving in the right direction.

      And btw, my daughter ended up being invited to a Top Applicant reception to UCSB (where she now attends) because as they said, “We know this Top 10% will have a lot of choices.” And she did. Because she worked hard, scored high, and was a genuine leader who chose be involved in her community because she loved it – not because she was building a college resume. I just wish more CA kids had the opportunity to go to these schools we pay tax-payer dollars for and not just the top 10%.

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