We took a look at UC admissions data from Coachella Valley schools. Here’s what we found

We took a look at UC admissions data from Coachella Valley schools. Here’s what we found

June 26, 2023 – Jonathan Horwitz | Palm Springs Desert Sun

The school year has ended, and many Coachella Valley graduates will soon head to college.

A select group will matriculate to the University of California system, a group of nine campuses among the top public universities in the country. In 2022, roughly 6% of Coachella Valley area seniors ended up enrolling at a UC school.

Every year, the UC system releases data about its applicants. While it’s too soon to know the full picture about this fall’s applicants, data from previous years tells a story about UC-going rates for Coachella Valley students.

From 2018 through 2022, about 20% of seniors at Coachella Valley public schools applied to at least one UC school. In 2022, the rate was 21% — far lower than the statewide average of roughly 33% of students. However, those who did apply were admitted to every campus at rates slightly higher than the statewide average.

Similar application, admission, enrollment rates across the valley

In recent years, application, admission and enrollment rates at UC schools have been consistent across most public high schools in Palm Springs, Desert Sands and Coachella Valley Unified school districts.

Palm Springs High stands out for producing the highest rate of applicants over the last five years, while Desert Hot Springs High, also in Palm Springs Unified, has seen the smallest percentage of its students apply to a UC school.

Most popular UC schools for Coachella Valley students?

In 2022, Coachella Valley students applied most frequently to UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Riverside. Unsurprisingly, those three schools became the most popular campuses for enrollees from the area.

  • At least 75 students from the valley enrolled at UC Irvine.
  • At least 70 students enrolled at UC San Diego.
  • At least 66 students enrolled at UC Riverside.

Most competitive UC Schools for Coachella Valley students?

Local seniors gained admission to every UC campus at more favorable rates compared to applicants from across all California. Still, UCLA was the most competitive school, followed by Berkeley and Irvine.

Overview of UC applications from Coachella Valley public schools in 2022

Solutions: How to improve local college application rates?

Ernie Rios, vice president of college success for OneFuture Coachella Valley, a nonprofit working to improve regional student achievement, says it’s imperative to remove financial barriers and improve access to college representatives.

“One thing that we find as a major barrier to pursuing postsecondary is financial aid,” Rios said. “Even among students who receive the Pell Grant, there’s still often a need gap.” The Pell Grant is a federal award to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need.

Since 2011, OneFuture Coachella Valley has helped to lead a campaign to get local students to apply for financial aid. Twelve years ago, fewer than half of Coachella Valley seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a prerequisite to receive aid at many schools. Today, closer to three quarters of seniors in the region complete the form, Rios said.

Although UC schools administer many forms of need-based and merit aid, they don’t guarantee to meet 100% of a students’ demonstrated financial need. Only a handful of selective private universities do. That is one reason Rios suggested why application rates to UC schools remain lower in the Coachella Valley compared to the rest of California. The Coachella Valley is home to a significantly higher proportion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students compared to the state or even the rest of Riverside County, according to California Department of Education data.

Rios added that local organizations must also play a role to increase access to colleges farther from home to get students to apply to a university they’re less familiar with.

For instance, financial barriers make it harder for many local students to visit schools outside the Coachella Valley.

“They might have heard the name UCLA or UC Santa Barbara and so forth, but they (often) haven’t had the opportunity to visit,” Rios said. “Not having had that opportunity to connect with someone from those respective institutions oftentimes makes it difficult for them to envision themselves there.”

While Palm Springs is home to an international airport, many students from the area have never flown in an airplane, a CSUSB hospitality professor pointed out last year.

Imposter syndrome could be another deterrent that prevents Coachella Valley students from applying to UC schools.

“We hear it a lot from our students, especially our low-income students who are first in their family to go to college — this whole imposter syndrome,” Rios said. “They’ve heard of the names (of these colleges), but they don’t feel like the they belong on those campuses.”

To help dispel that notion, over the past several years, OneFuture Coachella Valley has worked with other partners to host an annual regional college fair. Last year’s fair had representatives from over 100 colleges and drew over 4,000 attendees. Still, Rios acknowledged it doesn’t feel nearly the same for a prospective student to meet a school rep at a fair versus traveling to the campus and taking in the full experience.

Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Reach him at jonathan.horwitz@desertsun.com.

Special to Desert Sun.