Change in UC’s Freshman Admissions Policy

Considering the decision earlier today by the University of California Board of Regents to increase undergraduate student fees by 32 percent, it is no surprise that that is the UC story that everyone is talking about at the moment.  Arguments can be made that this is not a huge deal because students can basically carry out a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the benefits of a UC education are worth the cost.  If students believe that a UC education is worth the cost, then they can find a way to get the money to pay for their education.

But earlier this evening, I was given information that causes me to believe that there is a more pressing issue concerning the UC system these days.  (I am not sure whether the information that I was given is meant for the public viewing yet.  As a result, for the moment, I will not disclose my source for the information.)  In February 2009, the UC Board of Regents adopted a new freshman admissions policy that would significantly increase the applicant pool and reduce the historic guarantee of freshman admission for UC–eligible high school students from the top 12.5 percent of California’s graduating seniors down to only the top 10 percent.  The stated goal of the change in admission policy is to increase the diversity of the student population at UC campuses, and the new policy is scheduled to take effect for freshman entering the UC system in Fall 2012.

Before I go any further, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I want to clearly state that I attended the University of California at Berkeley from August 1996 to May 2000, graduating at the top of my undergraduate class at the Haas School of Business.  As valedictorian of Washington High School’s class of 1996, I got into UC Berkeley based on merit.

I have always been a proponent of students being accepted into the UC system based on merit, regardless of the color of their skin.  I publicly stated this position back during the days of Proposition 209 when I was still in high school.  I have always felt that, in a perfect world, we would not feel any sort of need to fill racial quotas.  I believe that affirmative action is a form of reverse discrimination that should not be tolerated in public life.  Accordingly, I believe the stated goal for the Fall 2012 change in UC admissions policy is flawed from the beginning.

But even if you disagree with my position on affirmative action, the data that I was given today should still cause the public to reject the new admissions policy.  In response to a request, the UC Office of the President has conducted a simulation of what the effects of the new admissions policy would have been for each of the nine UC campuses if it had been applied to 2007 high school graduates.  The simulation study looked at two possible scenarios: a small applicant pool increase and a large applicant pool increase.  According to the simulation:

  • The percentage of African American admissions would have decreased at eight UC undergraduate campuses under both scenarios.  At UC Davis, the percentage of African Americans would have dropped under the small applicant pool increase, but increase under the large pool increase scenario.
  • The percentage of Asian American admissions would have decreased at eight UC campuses under both scenarios.  At UC Riverside, the percentage of Asian Americans would have decreased under the large applicant pool scenario, but increase under the large one.
  • The percentage of white admissions would have increased significantly at eight UC campuses under both scenarios.  At UC Merced, the percentage of whites would have declined under both scenarios.
  • The percentage of Latino admissions would have declined at Berkeley, Irvine, Santa Barbara, and Riverside under both scenarios and dropped at Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Cruz under one of two scenarios.  The percentage of Latino admissions would have increased at Davis and Merced under both scenarios.
  • System-wide, the overall percentage of African American and Asian American admissions would have declined under both scenarios.  In fact, African American admission would have been 27 percent lower than what actually occurred had the new admissions policy been in place in 2007.  The percentage of white admissions would have increased significantly under both scenarios.  The overall percentage of Latino admissions would have increased.  But the Latino data is questionable, largely due to cautions by UC officials about interpreting the data for UC Merced, where the percentage of Latino admissions jumped wildly upward.  (On a side note, somebody should address the fact that the UC system seems to be using UC Merced as a campus to dump Latino students who do not qualify for admission at the more competitive schools.)

In summary, if the stated goal of the new admissions policy is to increase diversity in the UC system, the simulation conducted by the UC Office of the President demonstrates that it fails miserably.  It appears the only thing that is certain is that the new policy does nothing more than to increase the admission of undergraduate white students to UC campuses.  Whether one feels that affirmative action is good or not, the data shows that the new UC admissions policy does nothing to increase diversity.  Consequently, there is absolutely no reason to implement it.

I believe we need to pressure the UC Board of Regents to rescind their change in undergraduate admissions policy.  In addition to pressure from the public, I call on members of the California State Legislature to ask the Board of Regents to prevent the new admissions policy from ever going into effect.

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