American Renaissance

Diversity Lagging at Cal Poly

A largely automated admissions process hinders minority applicants at San Luis Obispo campus.

Stuart Silverstein and Doug Smith, L. A. Times, March 21

Sheva Diagne, a high school senior with strong grades and SAT scores, is intrigued by the array of options for college. She has applied to a long list of top institutions, public and private, and anticipates struggling with her final choice.

But it was easy for her to rule out one of the first schools she visited, California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.

While attending an outreach program two years ago, Diagne was immediately struck by the scarcity of minority students on campus. With a friend, she found herself counting the number of blacks.

“I don’t remember how many the number was, but we didn’t have very many,” said Diagne, who is black. “We were looking around and thinking, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ “

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is widely regarded as the academic star of the California State University system and ranks as one of the best regional universities in the West. It regularly competes for strong students against top UC schools. And it often wins.

Yet by another measure, Cal Poly falls short when compared with other selective California schools: its enrollment of blacks, Latinos and Native Americans.

Only 12.9% of Cal Poly’s undergraduates belong to those traditionally underrepresented minority groups, according to the latest data collected from the vast majority of students. That is the lowest rate among the 30 California public universities with comprehensive undergraduate programs.

Even with a state ban on affirmative action, enrollment of underrepresented groups has risen at other Cal State and UC campuses in recent years. At Cal Poly, the numbers started tumbling from a high of 18.9% in the late 1990s and have never rebounded.

The campus “is monochromatic, with mostly white people,” said Dan Guerrant, a white senior majoring in aerospace engineering, voicing one of his few complaints about the school.

Read the rest of this story here.

College Capers

Defying voters, UC, Berkeley is admitting kids with low SAT scores and rejecting high achievers.

John Moores, Forbes.com, 03.29.04

When Governor Gray Davis appointed me to the Board of Regents of the University of California in 1999, I recognized the university’s responsibility to extend the opportunity for academic achievement to as many capable students as the resources of the nation’s premier public university allow. Sadly, today’s UC admissions policies are victimizing students — not just those unfairly denied admission but also many with low college entrance exam scores who were admitted and can’t compete.

The California electorate voted to stop racial preference in college admission in 1996. Since then UC administrators have been manipulating the admissions system and, I believe, thwarting the law. (Although I have been the board’s chairman since 2002, I’m just one vote.) UC, Berkeley, the top school in the UC system, is admitting “underrepresented minorities” with very low SAT scores while rejecting many applicants with high SAT scores.

Prompted by many complaints from parents whose high-scoring children were rejected by Berkeley, I started probing admissions records. I learned that 359 students with combined SAT scores of 1,000 or less were admitted to Berkeley in 2002, accounting for 3% of the 10,905 students admitted that year. (The national SAT average is about 1,000.) Of those 359 students, 231 were from underrepresented minorities — meaning blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. Only 19 of the low scorers were white. Some 1,421 Californians with SAT scores above 1,400 applying to the same departments at Berkeley were not admitted. Of those, 662 were Asian-American, while 62 were from the underrepresented minorities.

How did the university get away with discriminating so blatantly against Asians? Through an admissions policy with the vague term “comprehensive review.” The policy includes factors like disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations. This means that a student from a poor background whose parents didn’t go to college is given preference over a kid raised by middle-class, educated parents — all other things being equal.

Nobody believes that the SAT is a perfect predictor of academic success, but it’s silly to pretend that very low scoring applicants should be admitted to one of America’s premier universities with the expectation that somehow these students will learn material that they missed in K-12.

Needless to say, there is no hard weighting system at Berkeley for any of the fuzzy factors mentioned above. The result is an admissions system that is impossible to audit and that offers a cover for university administrators who don’t want the media hounding them over declining minority enrollment.

The university is saying it is tilting the balance in favor of disadvantaged students as opposed to merely engaging in racial discrimination. Whatever the truth of that assertion, any good that comes from giving disadvantaged kids a leg up is undone if the tilting goes too far. It goes too far when kids who struggled with eighth-grade math have to compete with kids who aced advanced-placement calculus.

Another disappointment is the many “outreach” programs that were funded post-1996 to create more diversity at the university. As I see it, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on encouraging poor, often minority, high school students to apply to UC even if they have very low SAT scores. But the outreach programs have had perverse consequences. The victims are the kids who should have gone to one of California’s outstanding community colleges, where they might have had the possibility of success and a chance to grow intellectually.

California’s public higher education is the best in the world. UC should ensure that its policies are consistent with its well-deserved reputation. The university’s admission process should be legal and fair, and the criteria for admission should be transparent to the public. Students should understand that the path into UC is pretty straightforward: Work hard, take demanding courses and demonstrate academic success.