There's welcome sign at California State University campuses for new graduate students.
But it has an asterisk.
These high achievers are welcome so long as they come from Oregon or Nebraska or Canada or Brazil — or anywhere other than California.
If you're from the Golden State, sorry. The doors are closed.
CSU officials recently notified the 23 campuses that they will not be allowed to admit California residents to graduate programs for the spring semester. The policy doesn't extend to non-residents.
The reason, of course, is money.
California residents get a break on tuition; non-residents do not.
For graduate-level courses, most residents will pay about $7,300 in tuition and fees this school year. For the same 24 units, non-residents will pay about $8,900 more.
CSU officials don't deny that the decision was driven by finances. State funding for the university system was reduced by $750 million in the budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
A mid-year cut of $250 million would be triggered if voters reject Proposition 30, the initiative sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown to temporarily increase income and sales taxes to help pay for education programs.
"We need to make appropriate enrollment cuts and that, unfortunately, has to be California residents," CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp told the Los Angeles Times.
Uhlenkamp said new non-resident graduate students could "bring in additional revenue that could go to benefit state residents."
That's small consolation for California taxpayers hoping to enroll or send children to a home-state graduate school. Moreover, the same rationale could be used to further restrict admissions of California residents to undergraduate programs.
This spring, CSU is accepting a limited number of junior college transfers at Sonoma State and nine other campuses. California residents are eligible for those spots.
The University of California is admitting more out-of-state students, but it hasn't closed its doors to California residents.
On Saturday, we wrote about the value of a degree, even in these days of rising student debt, citing lower unemployment rates and estimates that a degree is worth about $1.3 million in extra income over a lifetime, compared to the earnings of a high school graduate.
There also is value to the community as a growing number of jobs require a college education.
A 2009 report by the Public Policy Institute of California projected that the state is on track to fall one million college graduates short of employer demand by 2025.
CSU is central to meeting those needs. As its mission statement says, the university must "prepare significant numbers of educated, responsible people to contribute to California's schools, economy, culture and future."
The challenge isn't easy. It's harder still when the university's resources don't match the demands for its services.
But the leaders of CSU need a better answer than turning away California residents while welcoming students from other states.