Community Debate: Are Application Numbers a Good Measure of UCSB’s Quality?


There’s Much More Hiding in the Shadow of 85,208 Applications

Thea Cabrera Montejo

The 5 percent increase of applicants that University of California, Santa Barbara received for undergraduate admission, though incredibly impressive, has gained an inflated influence on the perceived quality and success of the school. For Fall 2015, a whopping 85,208 first-year and transfer students chose us and applied here. Though it is quite an honor to receive such admiration, and though it does somewhat validate our school’s prestige, that number does not accurately measure UCSB’s value, quality, and success among other universities.

Using the recent application numbers this way is an overgeneralization that overlooks other factors that are just as important, if not more so, and assumes that one statistic is sufficient. Factors such as graduation versus dropout rates, research that has thrived because of the resources of the university, the amount of diversity within departments, alumni giving back years after their attendance, and success stories of Gauchos who have used UCSB as a platform for their upward projection are neglected in the shadow of 85,208 applicants. These amazing qualities are often glossed over because of the alluring notion that a single number can determine the value of a school and its students.

That number, though it may thrill some of us, should not define us. UCSB is a school that understands, more than most, how easy it is to be distorted and restricted by inaccurate perceptions, like our notorious party school reputation. The beauty, however, is the unrelenting truth. We are a prestigious school; we are a school that knows how to work hard and party hard; we are a research institution that produces impeccable results; we are a strong and dynamic university—and that cannot be challenged or justified by one statistic. Though it can help validate our prominence, one number insufficiently represents generations of students’ and faculties’ arduous efforts to make us what we are.

UCSB’s post-graduation success, such as graduation rates, alumni achievements, and the strong desire for alumni to give back and contribute, are better representations of the university’s ability to aid students in their professional journey. Gauchos’ thriving after their college career solidify the fact that our campus has provided an environment with excellent tools and resources. Though alumni achievements and their giving back to the university are preferable indicators of quality—they should not be the only factors. There is no simple solution to measuring the quality of a university, and there shouldn’t be one. The difficulty in defining a school resides in the simple fact that there is no easy way for a high-functioning, complex entity to be defined. Its success reflects on its product; its value is embodied in its thriving community; and though these may not be as tangible as 85,208 applications, it is this allure that UCSB should be proud of.

Public Perception Dictates Prestige, but the Graduates Reflect Greatness

Dominic Riolo

Setting a record in the number of applications received has been an annual trend for our school over the past several years and speaks to the ever-growing interest from potential freshman and transfer students. And though the number of Americans pursuing undergraduate degrees is rising, potential students’ interest in University of California, Santa Barbara, as seen in application numbers, exceeds this trend. This is a reflection of the impression of the desirability of our school—its prestige. However, it is important to distinguish prestige from academic quality.

Rising applicant numbers reflect prestige because it is a measure of both the exclusivity of our school as well as public opinion of it. Prestige, by definition, is based on perception, and if our applicant numbers are continuing to rise, so is positive public perception. Academic quality, however, cannot be directly measured in public opinion, despite it sometimes being used in this way.

Instead of looking at incoming students as a measure of our quality, we should look at outgoing students who have matriculated and graduated from our university. Success in post-graduation endeavors is an apt way of measuring this; it is a reflection of a college or university’s ability to provide its students with meaningful growth, both in the academic and real-world arenas. The UCSB Admission Guide for Freshman and Transfer Applicants states, for example, that “86 percent of students are employed full-time or pursuing graduate education within one year of graduation.” Additionally, the admission guide states that half of UCSB students conduct research during their time here, made possible by $150,000 from grants and funding every year.

So look to the number of applicants as a measure of current public perception and prestige. The quality of our education, however, cannot be judged with those who have not yet attended our university. Instead, look to those who have been stamped by the Gaucho experience, and allow their numbers to speak to our quality as an academic institution.