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UC System Expands Free Online Course Offerings for High School Students

By Cait Etherington
February 24, 2018

On February 21, the University of California (UC) announced that it would make online courses free for high school students to ensure they have all the courses required to be eligible and competitive for admission into college. UC’s online program, widely known as UC Scout, is an attempt to give in-state students a competitive edge in admissions at its own highly ranked campuses.

The Current UC Admissions Debate

In 2017, university statistics revealed that 69,972 in-state students were offered admission to at least one UC system campus (a 1.7 percent decline from 2016) while 36,039 non-Californians were offered freshman admission (nearly a 4 percent increase over 2016). Notably, the increase in non-California admission offers was especially controversial in 2017 since it came after a pledge to start capping the number of non-Californian offers. So, how difficult is it for a Californian to gain admission to a UC?

The UC system is a jewel in the crown of public higher education. Since its inception, it has worked to create a highly selective system that rivals ivies, and this is precisely what it has done so. The flip side is that California’s own students are frequently denied a spot in the state’s own public system. In 2015, The Atlantic interviewed Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit that advocates for access to higher education for all Californians. Siqueiros summed up the situation this way: “Students need to be virtually perfect to get a spot at the University of California.”

For students, the situation is disappointing and for parents, the situation is often financially devastating. Today, a high percentage of California parents, including those who once assumed their child would live at home and attend an in-state college, are paying for the kids to attend out-of-state colleges, despite the fact that their tax dollars continue to support the nation’s most prestigious state system.

How UC Scout Aims to Fix UC’s Admissions Imbalance

UC Scout, UC’s online program for high schoolers, currently offers 65 online classes, including each of those required to satisfy the “a-g” requirements for admission to the UC and California State University. The online program also offers 26 Advanced Placement (AP) classes. In 2016 to 2017, thanks to $4 million in state funding, the program added and updated dozens of free online courses, including courses in world history, law, and engineering. As stated in a press release issued by the University of California on February 21, “Reflecting the university’s commitment to equity and access, UC Scout works to ensure all California students have access to a high quality college preparatory curriculum, no matter where they live and attend school.”

Here it is important to bear in mind that currently, 47 California public high schools do not offer the full “a-g” curriculum, which is required for admission to UC or CSU schools. In addition, eight percent of California students attend high schools that offer no AP courses at all and another three percent attend schools with only four or fewer AP offerings. The bottom line is that a certain percentage of California students do not even currently have access to the curriculum needed to successfully compete for a spot at one of the state’s top universities.

As UC President Janet Napolitano said last week, “This program is a critical tool to bolster college eligibility among California students, particularly those who attend schools with limited resources. We are grateful for the state’s support of UC Scout and hope even more students will take advantage of the opportunities afforded by this easily accessible program.”

Scott Hill, vice president for the western region at the College Board, agrees that the expansion of UC’s online program for high school students is a step in the right direction: “We want to ensure that all students with the potential to succeed in AP coursework are able to take advantage of those opportunities. We applaud the recent expansion of the UC Scout program, which will help even more California students prepare for college and career success.”