Amid pandemic, UCSD offers admission to record number of freshmen

UC San Diego says it offered admission to 38,305 students for this fall, 6,300 more than last year.
UC San Diego says it offered admission to 38,305 students for this fall, 6,300 more than last year.

UC San Diego has offered admission to a record number of freshmen for the 2020-21 academic year, leading the entire University of California system in opening its doors to students.

But UCSD officials have privately acknowledged that the school could experience its first drop in enrollment since 2011 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and a recent controversy over the status of international students.

The campus, which is preparing for its 60th year, also has publicly said that it is greatly reducing the size of its residential population to provide for social distancing. The availability of housing plays a major role in where many students decide to go to school.

UCSD will be a very different place this fall, regardless of the size of its enrollment. Only about 30 percent of its classes will be taught in person. The rest will be offered online, with students paying full tuition.

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The university will offer coronavirus testing to its 65,000 students, faculty and staff, an undertaking that could cost up to $2 million a month.

UCSD said it offered admission to 38,305 students for this fall, 6,300 more than last year and 8,728 above the 2018 level.

During that three-year period, the number of admission offers that UCSD made to California residents grew by 5,176. The number of offers made to out-of-state students increased by 2,325. And offers to international students rose by 1,227.

The number of offers throughout the UC system hit 119,054, an increase of 11,037 over 2018.

Only a fraction of students who are offered admission actually enroll.

“Expansions in admission rates are being undertaken out of the hope that it will offset the expected hit to enrollment in the wake of the COVID disruptions,” said Phillip Magness, a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research in Great Barrington, Mass.

“It may to some extent ... [but] as long as in-person instruction remains suspended or severely restricted on most campuses, and as long as college administrators hold firm on charging full tuition for those reduced services, expanding enrollment may just end up precipitating a race to the bottom with other schools that sacrifice admissions standards for numbers and tuition payments.”

Money considerations also may compel students and their parents to look beyond elite research schools like UCSD, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Miami-based

“Summer melt from domestic students may be higher as interest in gap years and leaves of absence has increased as more students consider waiting out the pandemic,” Kantrowitz said. “Some students will be going to college closer to home, so this may affect enrollment positively or negatively. Some students will be going to community colleges instead of four-year colleges.”

UCSD also has been worried about enrollment because the Trump administration said in early July that it might revoke visas for international students if they took all their classes online. That scenario is possible because of the pandemic.

The administration rescinded that order. But educators say the controversy could discourage foreign students from enrolling at U.S. schools. ◆