For the first time in more than a decade, the odds of getting a coveted spot to attend the University of California rose this spring at every one of the system's campuses, reversing a trend that has stressed out the state's high school seniors and prompted a debate over who deserves a UC education.
Admission rates for in-state freshmen shot up at UC Santa Cruz, Davis and Riverside, according to figures released Wednesday, and even inched above 20 percent at UC Berkeley for the first time since 2009.
The good news comes despite another year of record-high applications and was a direct result of a tensely negotiated systemwide expansion plan that added a total of 5,000 new seats this fall for in-state undergraduate students.
Overall, 67.5 percent of California high school seniors applying to UC got an offer from at least one campus, up from 60 percent last year.
UC Riverside had the largest increase in student admissions, by percentage, of any campus, with a 6,658 more freshmen than last year, a 30.8 percent increase. The school had just a 2.7 percent increase from 2014 to 2015.
Campus spokesman James Grant said the school offers admission, knowing that only about one-fourth of the students will actually end up enrolling. But overall enrollment is expected to go up. Of the 5,000 new freshman the UC will add, Grant said 977 are expected to come to UCR.
"I actually didn't think I was going to get in at all because the acceptance rate is so low," said Emely Lopez, of Oakland, who received offers from Santa Cruz and Riverside as well as a full-ride scholarship to Merced. "I was surprised."
Freshman admission rates for Californians at the most competitive campuses -- Berkeley, at 21.3 percent, and Los Angeles, at 17.7 percent -- are still less than half of what they were in the 1990s. But both schools made offers this spring to more than 1,000 additional California high school seniors compared to the previous year.
At UC Riverside, California student offers rose 26.9 percent, from 19,237 to 24,405.
Latino, African-American and other underrepresented-minority students made up 37.8 percent of admitted freshmen across all campuses, UC reported, compared with 34.6 percent a year ago. The data released Wednesday do not reveal how many students accepted their admissions offers.
"We are happy to welcome to the university so many more Californians, a diverse, high-achieving group of both freshman and transfer students," UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
The admission rates for community college transfer students also rose slightly across the system, from 70.2 percent to 71.9 percent. And students from other states and countries saw their admission rates improve slightly, with offers to 50.9 percent of out-of-state and 63.2 percent of international students.
Although 85 percent of UC's undergraduates are from California, the number of out-of-state students has swelled in recent years, as campuses rely on their much-higher tuition as a source of revenue. Reacting to constituent complaints and a state audit that blasted UC's commitment to Californians, lawmakers this year made proposals that would have required specific caps on out-of-state enrollment in exchange for additional funding.
Ultimately, the state budget provided money for the university's multiyear expansion -- 5,000 additional in-state freshman and transfer spots this fall, and 2,500 in each of the following two years -- with a requirement that the regents "adopt a policy that limits enrollment of nonresident students."
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who heads the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, said he was encouraged by the diversity of the admitted class and called the news "a good start."
With more students graduating from California high schools with the courses they need to attend a state university, he said, "it shows that we need to double down and further expand access."
Once admissions offers are accepted, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego expect to have 750 more students this fall; UC Irvine will have 650; UC Merced is adding 450; UC Davis is adding 350 and UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz are each adding 300, according to the UC Office of the President.
Staff writer Mark Muckenfuss contributed to this report.