During the regular school year, nonresidents pay up to three times as much as students from California, bringing the universities a few hundred million dollars. But partly due to measures taken to boost summer enrollment, they are spared from paying higher fees for summer classes.
"It seems out of sync," said Steve Boilard, director of higher education policy for the Legislative Analyst's Office.
A decade ago, the UC system moved from a self-supported summer quarter to one funded by the state. Having a later deadline for summer school was one strategy adopted then to make summer sessions more attractive and open to everyone. The later deadline doesn't give university officials enough time to verify residency claims, according to UC Davis summer sessions director Gary Ford.
Instead, university officials decided to make the cost of each summer unit the same for everyone, which gave nonresidents a break.
This past spring, for example, a resident student at UC Davis would have paid about $4,400 for a minimum of 12 units while a nonresident paid closer to $12,000. Summer fees are assessed per unit rather than a set amount. This summer, both groups are paying about $3,300 for 12 units.
"From my perspective, it's a good thing to have one price," said Tom Radmilovich, chief administrative officer for UC Irvine summer sessions. "We make it possible for everyone to come and enjoy a benefit and stay on track."
With the state budget still in limbo, state support for the UC system is still a moving target, but it will drop by at least $500 million next year. UC spokesman Ricardo Vázquez said dealing with those cuts could mean turning to options such as raising summer fees across the board or starting to make nonresidents pay surcharges in the summer.
UC San Diego summer sessions director Becky Arce said verification wouldn't be impossible, "but it would be difficult and might end up costing more than it brings" into university coffers.
"I don't think we're going to find a good answer for students," Arce said.
In the school year that starts this fall, a record percentage of the freshman class is expected to come from outside of California. The growing numbers reflect a mandate by the UC Board of Regents to enroll more nonresidents as well as aggressive overseas recruiting efforts by UC Berkeley and other schools. The students from other states or countries make up about an eighth of total enrollment during the regular school year.
At UC San Diego, about 300 nonresidents are among the 10,000 expected at summer school this year. Without taking into account the costs for verification, having nonresidents pay even double the current summer fees could generate several million dollars across all the campuses.
Most campuses -- with the notable exceptions of UCLA and UC Santa Cruz -- are forecasting summer surges, including a record summer enrollment at UC Berkeley.
A portion of the rise is attributable to visiting students, a group that includes community college, high school and other students who aren't regularly enrolled in the UC system. About 10,000 such students attended last summer. Fewer summer courses at community colleges because of budget cuts are driving more visiting students to UC this year, according to university officials. Summer sessions directors said that the extra fees that visitors pay cover the full cost of their instruction.
Unlike the UC campuses, the California State University system doesn't give nonresidents a break. They pay an extra $372 per unit year-round.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer Kim, 21, a senior at UC Davis, listens with other student advisors during a job interview skills class on May 3. Renée C. Byer / Sacramento Bee.