By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
May 3, 2011

It may be in their backyard, but for many South Bay students, a seat at Cal State Long Beach has become one of the toughest tickets in town.

Families in Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes, Torrance and elsewhere have become casualties of a confluence of circumstances that include education funding cuts, limited space and a local admissions preference that considers them outsiders.

In response to rising demand, the Long Beach campus, like others in the California State University system, several years ago began to raise such admissions criteria as grade point average and test scores for students outside of its immediate area.

That area includes the Anaheim, Bellflower, Compton, Downey, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Los Alamitos, Paramount and ABC school districts as well as Long Beach City College and Orange Coast, Coastline and Golden West community colleges. Students from those schools are guaranteed admission if they meet Cal State’s minimum admission criteria.

Students in many beach cities and even adjacent communities, including Wilmington and Carson, have to meet a higher standard.

Concern over the issue did not boil over until recently, however, when the state’s budget crisis caused Cal State campuses to slash enrollment and to again boost criteria for out-of-area students. Last year, Long Beach’s eligibility cutoff for incoming freshman — a number that combines GPA and test scores — was 2,900 for local students and 3,950 for nonlocals.

Since then, enrollment has plummeted among South Bay students who consider the Long Beach campus their local university: Freshman enrollment from four high schools in the Torrance Unified School District, for example, fell from 92 in 2007 to 44 in 2009. Transfers from El Camino College in Torrance dropped from 434 to 180 over the same period.

The decline prompted El Camino President Thomas M. Fallo to write an appeal to Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed noting his school’s longstanding relationship with the Long Beach campus and asking to be included in its local service area.

“I would hope there would be some legacy consideration over the relationship we’ve had,” Fallo said in an interview. “The current admissions policy is absolutely limiting options for our students.”

Johanna Zamora, the student representative on El Camino’s Board of Trustees, found out recently that her transfer application to Cal State Long Beach was rejected, even though she had been admitted to the college as a freshman applicant three years earlier.

“I don’t regret it now, what’s done is done,” Zamora said of her decision to start at community college to save money. A civil engineering major, she has also applied to Cal Poly Pomona and USC. “You’re going to reach your goals no matter what path you take. But it’s disappointing not getting into Long Beach because it is close.”

Many South Bay students feel abandoned because no Cal State campus considers them local, said Torrance Unified School Supt. George Mannon.

Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson is closer to many of the South Bay schools, but it and six other Cal State campuses designate the entire state as their service area. Those campuses, for various reasons, attract fewer students.

“There’s a stereotype that students from the South Bay cities are all middle- or upper-income and can afford to go anywhere they want to go, and that’s not true,” Mannon said. As the continuing budget crisis threatens to reduce access further, he said, “kids in local admission areas have an advantage over kids like ours who are not in any local admission area.”

Cal State Long Beach officials say they are dealing with enrollment pressures they can’t control. In the last two years, three neighboring community colleges were added to Long Beach’s local jurisdiction, and other colleges closer to the Long Beach campus than El Camino have also requested consideration, Reed said in a letter to Fallo.

In rejecting the El Camino request, he noted that the Torrance campus is six miles from Cal State Dominguez Hills but 20 miles from Long Beach.

The pressures are especially acute at Long Beach and a handful of other popular Cal State campuses that are considered “destination” schools because of campus amenities, academic programs and other features. Long Beach received 47,000 freshman applications and 18,000 transfer requests from California residents for fall 2011, more than any other Cal State campus.

The move by many schools to manage enrollment by raising standards has spurred debate over the changing mission of California’s public universities as they confront expanding numbers of students and dwindling state support. For many Cal State campuses, the question is whether to maintain equal standards or give an edge to local students who may have lower grades.

The decisions at some universities are creating tensions.

San Diego State in 2009 ended an admission guarantee for local high school students by declaring all of its programs over-subscribed. The action triggered legislation requiring public notice and hearings before campuses change admission criteria.

In February, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended that Cal State’s 23 campuses focus on providing access to local students.

“If you accept that some students are place-bound and can’t easily move to a different area to go to college because of jobs and family responsibilities, the guarantee of access is pretty hollow if it’s not guaranteed in your region,” said Steve Boilard, director of higher education for the agency and author of the study.

That doesn’t sway parents like George Harpole, whose son James is a senior at Torrance’s South High School. He was admitted to UC Santa Cruz, which he’ll attend in the fall, but turned down by Cal State Long Beach.

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