Would San Diego State have over-enrolled if it hadn’t changed its admissions rules? That is one of the key questions that divides those who back its decision to stop guaranteeing admission to local students from those who say it was necessary. Here is how the numbers break down:

Nearly 5,000 local, eligible students applied to become freshmen at San Diego State last year. Under the old policy, all of them would be admitted. But usually they don’t all show up. Between 2006 and 2009, roughly half of the local students who are admitted to San Diego State have actually shown up.

If the same number of students applied and the same percentage actually decided to go to San Diego State, the university would still have some room for out-of-area students this year. Try the math:

  • 5,000 local students applied x 50 percent show up = 2,500 local students enroll at SDSU.

San Diego State estimates that it has 3,056 spots for California freshmen. (It’s saving roughly 300 spots for out-of-state and international students, who pay higher tuition.) So if students had applied and shown up at their usual rates, they wouldn’t have exceeded the spots.

But when university officials created the new rules, they believed that the rocky economy could push more local students to apply and to choose the school. How high would those numbers need to get? Here are some scenarios that come close to the enrollment limits:

  • 5,000 local students apply x 61 percent show up = 3,050 local students enroll at SDSU.
  • 5,556 local students apply x 55 percent = 3,055 local students.
  • 6,112 local students apply x 50 percent = 3,056 local students.

So the school would need to see a significant increase in the percentage of local students who apply or actually show up — or both — to risk over-enrolling. As it happens, San Diego State now knows how many local students applied this year: 4,981 students. That means the “show rate” would need to be more than 61 percent — a jump of more than 10 percent over the show rate in the recent past.

Was that really likely? That’s where the critics and the believers are split.

University officials also argue that even if they stayed within enrollment limits, they still needed to ensure space for out-of-area students, who are more likely to bunk in dorms, a financial issue for the school, and to keep the campus geographically diverse.

— EMILY ALPERT

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