Mis-Admission To The UC System
John Moores, San Diego Union-Tribune, SignOnSanDiego, Jun. 11
Variations on the following theme have been published recently by newspapers across California:
This year, thousands of high school graduates are being denied admission to the University of California, despite having satisfied UC’s extraordinarily difficult eligibility requirements. Thus, for the first time, the state is breaching a solemn commitment to exceptional students who worked hard for four years to gain entrance to UC.
The problem with this story is that it is not true. In my opinion, the real, largely untold story is that the eligibility pool has been expanded and standards lowered in recent years, resulting in annual over-admission to UC.
It appears this has been done primarily to increase racial and ethnic diversity at UC and to benefit minority candidates who do have a viable alternative: enrolling at community colleges and the California State University system and following the pathway to UC contemplated in the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, which has served the state and its graduating high school seniors well for 40 years.
The master plan directs UC to admit the “top 12.5 percent” of public high school graduates. In the past academic year, UC, without informing the Board of Regents, admitted 14.4 percent. Thousands of extra students have been admitted annually, essentially for two reasons: (1) UC is paid by the Legislature on a formula for each student enrolled in the system, and (2) UC’s administration has been trying to increase ethnic and racial diversity following voter approval of Proposition 209, which forbade UC from using race or ethnicity in admissions.
UC’s eligibility standards are actually quite modest. Currently, all California seniors are guaranteed admission to UC — although not necessarily to a particular campus — if they merely complete certain high school courses with average grades. For example, a student with a grade point average of 3.0 on a 5.0 scale who scores 480 on the SAT I verbal and math exams is guaranteed admission. The average SAT score in California is about 500, and a GPA of 3.0 is also quite common.
Once students are deemed eligible, individual campuses then examine additional factors — which can include family income, parental education, overcoming adversity, etc. — before offering admission. This process is known as “Comprehensive Review.”
Because all the undergraduate UC campuses are encouraged to accept from the entire pool of eligible students, many low-achieving students are enrolled at each. I was surprised to learn that in 2002 UC Berkeley admitted nearly 400 students who scored below 1,000 on the combined SAT I math and verbal exams while denying admission to substantial numbers of outstanding students with higher SAT scores and better GPAs.
It is difficult to understand how students with below-average scores on standardized college entrance exams, and rather ordinary GPAs, can be considered among the top 12.5 percent of public high school seniors.
I am not against Comprehensive Review, per se. I do not wish to deny admission to applicants with genuine academic potential who, for any number of reasons, did not reach that potential in high school. I am deeply troubled, however, if significant numbers of low-achieving students from “under-represented minorities” are admitted, at the expense of higher-achieving applicants who happen to be Asian or Caucasian, by using Comprehensive Review to circumvent state law prohibiting racial preferences.
At the most selective UC campuses, such as Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego, academic standards remain high for students enrolled in the most demanding majors, which effectively require combined SAT scores of 1,400 or higher for admission consideration. UC administrators maintain that students with low SAT scores do just fine academically, but presumably there are few science, engineering or literature majors in this group.
The most common major for UC students who could not score above 1,000 on their combined SAT I exams is something called “Social Welfare.” I do not believe we are doing minority candidates any favors by giving them a UC diploma without a UC education.
I also take issue with UC’s announcement — also without approval by the regents — that it will provide state-funded vouchers to community colleges and subsequent guaranteed admission to UC to the thousands of California students who are not among the top 12.5 percent, but have inappropriately been determined to be “UC eligible.”
My continuing recommendation to solve the admissions dustup would be that we comply with the letter of the law and adhere to the spirit of the visionary master plan, which established a complementary, three-tiered system of higher education in California.
UC, the state’s research university, should admit the top one-eighth of graduating seniors, based on objective standards. The CSU system, the largest in the country, admits from the top one-third. The community college system has an open-admission policy and, for those minority students whose demonstrated academic performance (as opposed to subjectively projected potential) merits advancement, a pathway into both the UC and CSU systems, where they can succeed in a variety of majors.
That is a far better way of maintaining racial and ethnic diversity on UC campuses without lowering academic standards to artificially increase the freshman eligibility pool. It would have the added advantage of restoring public confidence that UC admissions practices are fundamentally fair, transparent, understandable and auditable.