UC Irvine leadership program draws skepticism, falls short in absorbing extra freshmen

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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.”

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.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe


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