UC’s New Policy on Freshman Admission -- Moving in the Wrong Direction

UC’s New Policy on Freshman Admission -- Moving in the Wrong Direction

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Background: Intent to Increase Student Diversity on UC Campuses

A diverse University of California (UC) student body, representative of the state’s high school graduates, has long been a goal embraced by many political, educational and community leaders. In spite of the challenges created by the passage of Proposition 209, over the past decade, the UC eligibility rate of African-American and Latino high school students has increased, due to their hard work -- enrolling in required high school coursework and achieving the grades and test scores necessary for admission. Unquestionably more progress in the UC admission of underrepresented minority students is welcome and needed to secure a better future for their communities and the state as a whole.

To this end, several years ago the UC Academic Senate began the process to review and recommend changes to the current UC freshman eligibility and admissions policy, with the goal to increase student diversity at the nine UC undergraduate campuses. The Academic Senate’s intent was highly commendable. Unfortunately, the new policy the faculty members recommended and successfully persuaded the Board of Regents to adopt in February 2009 will turn back the clock on racial minority admission to UC, beginning with the fall 2012 entering class.

The new policy reduces the historic guarantee of freshman admission from the top 12.5 percent to 10 percent of California high school graduates. It also eliminates the requirement for freshman applicants to take the SAT Subject Tests that assess the mastery of specific academic subjects. As such, the test score portion of admission decisions will rely on an applicant’s performance on the aptitude-oriented SAT Reasoning Test (successor to the racially-biased SAT I test) and perpetuate test preparation by students whose families can afford it.

Simulation Studies: UC President and Faculty Members Blatantly Ignoring Study Results

In advance of the Regents’ February 2009 meeting, UC President Mark Yudof asked faculty members to come up with their “best estimate of [their] proposal’s impact on [student] diversity.” President Yudof’s request led to a simulation study, developed by the UC Office of the President (UCOP), of the effect of the faculty-recommended policy on freshman admission by race, had the policy been in effect for the fall 2007 entering class, based on California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) data.

Presented at the Regents’ February 2009 meeting, simulation study results showed that the recommended policy would have had a negative impact on racial minority admission for the fall 2007 entering class. The percentage of Asian-Americans admittees would have dropped significantly, and that of Latinos would have declined too. The percentage of African-American admittees would have remained the same. In contrast, the percentage of white admittees would have increased significantly.

President Yudof and faculty members shockingly chose to ignore the results of their own simulation study, and instead vigorously pushed for approval of their recommendation to change the freshman eligibility and admission policy. They touted their recommendation to expand the number of freshman applicants, by as much as 30,000 students, entitled to have their applications reviewed but not guaranteed admission, creating the hope, but without any evidence, that student diversity would increase.

Appalled by the UC president and faculty members’ blatant disregard of the February 2009 study results, we met with UC officials to protest the lack of meaningful notice and outreach to affected communities during the development of the new policy. Because the February 2009 simulation study did not provide sufficient details, we requested, and UC officials agreed to conduct, a simulation study of the impact of the new policy for each UC undergraduate campus.

In November 2009 UC officials released the results of this second simulation study. Had the new policy been in effect for spring 2007 California public school graduates, the percentage of African-American and Asian-American admissions would have declined at eight of the nine UC campuses, and that of Latino admissions, at four campuses. The percentage of white admissions would have increased significantly at eight UC campuses. Systemwide, the number of African-American admittees would have dropped 27 percent; Asian Americans, 12 percent; and Latinos, 3 percent.

Faculty members who developed and recommended the new policy were displeased with, if not embarrassed by, the results of the November 2009 study. These faculty members then unilaterally decided, without the involvement of the UC Office of the President or dialogue with concerned community groups, to conduct a third simulation study to counter the results of the November 2009 study.

In January 2010, faculty members released the results of their simulation study. Whereas the November 2009 study was based on known student applicant behavior from CPEC data, the faculty-engineered simulation study arbitrarily suppressed the number of applicants from the expanded pool of 30,000 UC-eligible high school graduates, and in the process disproportionately reduced the number of UC-eligible white applicants competing for freshman admission.

With the release of their January 2010 study, the Academic Senate declared the new freshman eligibility and admission policy to have “race-neutral effects.” This declaration was wrong and wishful thinking on the part of faculty members involved with the development and promotion of the new policy. A close examination of the results of the January 2010 study itself indicates that, had the new policy been in place for the entering fall 2007 freshman class, the number of African-American and Asian-American admittees would have declined at eight of nine UC undergraduate campuses, and Latino admittees, at three of nine campuses. Systemwide, the number of African-American admittees would have dropped 13 percent, and Asian-American admittees, between 1 percent and 2 percent. These results do not support the faculty members’ claim of “race-neutral effects.” In terms of increased student diversity, the number of Latino admittees would have gained no ground.

Within the span of 12 months, UC has produced three simulation studies -- the initial one in February 2009, a second in November 2009, and the third in January 2010 -- to defend and garner support for the new freshman eligibility and admission policy. None, though, has shown the new policy will result in greater student diversity. Worse yet, each of the three simulation studies have indicated racial minority admission, especially African-American and Asian-American, will likely decline, and Latino admission will likely experience no increase.

In an unabashed, shameless effort to defend the new policy, UC officials and faculty members have taken the extraordinary step to question and disown the results of their own simulation studies. President Yudof and the Academic Senate now assert their own studies “may not accurately predict who will actually be admitted in 2012.” Yet in response to community objections raised about the new policy, an Academic Senate faculty leader has not hesitated to predict the new freshman eligibility and admission policy “will likely result in a significant increase in the number of African-American, Chicano-Latino and Southeast Asian enrollments,” without providing any data to support her claim.

In the possession of a vast amount of student applicant and high school data collected over the years, UC routinely conducts simulation studies for the purpose of developing and adopting new policies as they relate to admissions, financial aid, outreach and student support services. It is unprofessional and unconscionable for President Yudof and the Academic Senate to ignore and misrepresent the results of these three studies and the likelihood of harmful effects of the new policy on racial minority admission.

Exaggerated Claims About the “Fairness” and Benefits of the New Policy

When questioned about the new policy, Academic Senate leaders state the new freshman eligibility and admission policy is about “fairness,” giving more high-achieving students the chance to apply to UC and receive a full review of their applications. These leaders point out the current policy prevents UC from considering thousands of outstanding students with high GPAs and test scores because of a technical flaw in their record or a missing SAT test -- chiefly, the SAT Subject Tests. These leaders charge that under the current policy, students with lower GPA and SAT scores are guaranteed admission at the expense of students with higher GPA and SAT scores simply because these higher-scoring students did not take the SAT Subject Tests.

The Academic Senate asserts under the new policy, academic standards will rise because higher-scoring students who have not taken the SAT Subject Tests will be considered for admission. The Academic Senate’s own January 2010 simulation study does not support such a claim. The mean GPA of high school graduates admitted to UC for the fall 2007 entering class was 3.72. The mean SAT Reasoning score of these admittees was 1752. Had the new policy been in effect for this fall 2007 entering class, the mean GPA of applicants, who would have been admitted because of the new policy but were not under the current policy, was 3.61, or 0.12 points lower. The mean SAT Reasoning score of these same admittees was 1644, or 108 points lower.

There is nothing fair about the new policy if it produces a less racially-diverse group of admittees and the academic achievement of these admittees is lower than that of admittees under the current policy. Based on 2007 data, 85 percent of high school students across all racial groups, in the expanded pool of UC-eligibles under the new policy, did not achieve a sufficiently high GPA that would be competitive for admission to most UC campuses under the current policy. The claim by the Academic Senate that the current policy penalizes large numbers of high-scoring high school graduates is without merit. In fact, the argument can be made that under the new policy, certain high school graduates from diverse racial backgrounds will be displaced in admissions by students with lower academic achievement.

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UC Needs to Come Clean About the New Policy and Its Effects on Student Diversity

We call on President Yudof and Academic Senate to respect UC’s own simulation studies, be honest about study results and not draw conclusions that are not based on the data in these studies. It is unseemly for the Academic Senate to fish around, and then fail to find a simulation study that provides data-driven justification to support implementation of the new policy. All three studies indicate that, under the new policy, the admission of UC-eligible African-American and Asian-American applicants will be headed in the wrong direction, and that of UC-eligible Latinos, not gaining any new ground.
However attractive it may appear to be, opening the door for more high school applicants to apply and have their application reviewed does not mean that more racially diverse applicants will be admitted as freshman students. The Academic Senate has acknowledged reductions in freshman enrollment due to the state’s budgetary woes and the lack of outreach funding to target underrepresented racial minority students are significant challenges to improving student diversity on the UC campuses. None of the three simulation studies takes into account the ongoing reduction in student enrollment at UC. Had the three simulation studies done so, they would have shown a greater reduction in the admission of UC-eligible racial minority applicants under the new policy.

The time has come for President Yudof and the Academic Senate to transcend their arrogance and acknowledge the new freshman eligibility and admission policy will not increase student diversity on the nine UC undergraduate campuses. The UC Board of Regents needs to rescind the new policy as soon as possible. UC officials and faculty members need to begin the process of re-building public trust through meetings and discussions with concerned community members and groups about effective strategies to maintain and improve student diversity on the UC campuses. Absent taking these steps, President Yudof and the Academic Senate perpetuate their lack of credibility in developing and advancing fair policies that benefit the students, families and citizens of California.


Vincent Pan is executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, Ling Chi Wang is associate professor emeritus of ethnic studies, UC Berkeley, and Henry Der is a veteran civil rights activist.