To Rishi Shah, UC Irvine‘s new academy for incoming freshmen sounded like a dream deal: a 50% discount on tuition, leadership courses, smaller classes and “exclusive social events.”
He signed up for it — but quickly changed his mind after seeing posts in a Facebook group saying the leadership program had been slapped together to absorb more than 800 extra students who had unexpectedly decided to attend UC Irvine this fall.
The students who joined the Anteater Leadership Academy, he learned, would have to cancel their enrollment as regular freshmen, take a more limited menu of classes in the adult education division and give up access to campus housing and financial aid — details not mentioned in the initial email he received about it in May.
“Many students considered it a scam,” said Shah, a graduate of Cerritos High School. “UCI should have been a lot more transparent about the cons as well as the pros.”
As UC Irvine continues to weather criticism for rescinding 499 admission offers in mid-July just two months before the start of the fall term, Shah and others said the leadership program’s rollout shows why campus officials were met with mistrust over their handling of the surge of extra students this year.
UCI officials had hoped to divert as many as 500 students into the new academy, which gets its name from the school mascot, deferring their status as regular students for a year to ease the overenrollment crunch. But with the negative buzz, only 100 have signed up.
“With the rescissions and leadership program, a lot of kids distrust administration now,” said an incoming freshman who asked to be identified only by his first name, Chase, to avoid attention. “It felt like they weren’t being 100% honest with us.”
Thomas A. Parham, vice chancellor of student affairs, said he believed the campus was sufficiently upfront in disclosing details of the program.
Social media, he said, had circulated misinformation. While driven by the need to accommodate more freshmen than expected, the program offered bona fide benefits, he said, such as the tuition discount, leadership opportunities and a more intimate and intensive first-year experience.
Rumors that the classes in which academy students enrolled would not count toward graduation, and would thus extend the time it took them to get degrees, and that their instructors would not be “real faculty” are false, he said in an interview.
“It’s not a trap,” Parham said. “There are some parents who thought we were very transparent, thanked us for it and actually enrolled [their students] in the program. There were some folks who thought, uh, maybe not.”
Parham added that UCI’s overall handling of the rescissions, while sometimes falling short, has been misconstrued.
“The rumors on social media is that Irvine had these 800 extra students and they’re willy nilly snatching admissions back because they can’t accommodate them,” he said. “It isn’t true. We spend time trying to get kids access, not deny access.”
On Wednesday, UC Irvine announced that it would reinstate all 290 admission offers that had been revoked because students failed to meet deadlines and other requirements for transcripts and test scores. Appeals from 139 students whose acceptances were withdrawn because of poor senior grades will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, said Ria Carlson, associate chancellor of strategic communications and public affairs.
“It’s clear that we don’t like the way this was handled,” Carlson said, adding that Chancellor Howard Gillman would issue a statement later Wednesday. “We should have been more sensitive in our approach. We probably should have worked more closely with students. We should have reached out to them by telephone.”
As of Tuesday, 112 of the 214 appeals from students whose offers were withdrawn for transcript-related problems had been granted.The success rate was lower for those whose offers were rescinded due to poor senior grades; in that category, eight of 132 appeals had been granted.
Parham acknowledged that campus officials were stricter about enforcing admission requirements this year but reiterated his contention that no acceptances were withdrawn from students who met all enrollment conditions — which include receiving a high school degree, submitting transcripts and test scores by deadlines and maintaining a weighted 3.0 senior-year grade point average with no Ds or Fs in UC-approved courses.
Ashley Gonzalez, a graduate of John Marshall High School in Los Angeles whose rescission was featured in a Los Angeles Times story last week, is one of the lucky students whose appeal worked. Her admission offer was withdrawn because campus officials said a community college transcript had not arrived by the July deadline. But Gonzalez said it had been sent in the same envelope as her high school transcript, which was received on time. She received word Tuesday that she once again was accepted.
But skepticism about Irvine’s actions lingers.
Sarah Eichhorn, a faculty member in the physical sciences department, said the university has compounded its problems in launching the leadership academy. By denying access to financial aid, she said, the program gives wealthier students preferential treatment in the form of leadership opportunities and smaller classes.
“In the rush to deal with an overenrollment and housing shortage problem, UCI has created a program … with extreme social justice and equity issues,” she said. “I would hate to see this institutionalized and become a model for other University of California campuses.”
Parham said he disagreed with that characterization of the program. The aim, he said, is to help middle-income students whose families make too much to qualify for most financial aid but too little to easily afford the full cost of attendance — an estimated $33,000 annually.
Mariano Segovia, a graduate of Garr High School in Cerritos, represents just that kind of student. His mother, a nurse, earns about $130,000 annually — too much to qualify for any financial aid but a loan, he said. The program’s offer of a 50% tuition discount intrigued him enough to attend an informational session, at which campus officials laid out the pros and cons, he said.
One of his major concerns at the time was the limited class menu, but officials have since added chemistry, biology and math classes to help those majoring in health-related fields stay on track. They also added free parking passes, valued at more than $600.
Segovia said he doesn’t need campus housing since he plans to commute. He figures he can still make friends by joining campus clubs.
“Tuition is pretty expensive and I was willing to do anything to make things cheaper for my family,” he said of his decision to sign up for the program.
Other students, however, were dissuaded. Paris Thomas, a graduate of View Park High School in Los Angeles, said her mother wanted her to sign up because of the tuition discount. But after perusing Facebook posts, Thomas thought it “sounded so fishy.”
When a campus official called to pitch the program, Thomas said she learned for the first time that it would cause her to lose access to her Cal Grant because she would not be considered a regularly enrolled student. She declined to participate.
Shah, the Cerritos student, who plans to major in software engineering, said he tried to withdraw from the program after signing up. In two separate phone calls in June, he said, campus staff assured him he was no longer registered. But in July, a message on his UCI online portal welcomed him to the academy.
“I was pretty shocked,” he said. “It’s like they were keeping me in against my will.”
Eventually, he was removed, he said, a campus staff member apologized for the mix-up.