UC Faculty Give New Admissions Process Passing Grade
A faculty review awarded high marks to the University of California’s new admissions process that tries to consider students’ personal and academic challenges as well as their academic records. Critics, however, say the new policy, known as comprehensive review, lowers academic standards and encourages students to come up with hard-luck stories to impress application readers.
But the faculty review released last month found the process was successful in its first year with academic levels remaining stable, campuses keeping the system fair and a small spot-check indicating students were being honest.
UC’s governing board of regents discussed the policy last month in San Francisco and decided to spot-check applicants’ claims of hardship next year, hoping to defuse criticism that their new policy of taking disadvantage into account invites students to embroider tales of woe.
UC officials already verify all applicants’ grades and test scores. Admissions officers are now working on expanding the verification system by drawing a random sample from all applications and asking those students to back up claims of extracurricular activities and achievements. Some hardships, such as poverty, will also be checked, although officials won’t ask for evidence of very personal claims of adversity, such as a criminal assault. Students who can’t verify claims will be denied admission.
Comprehensive review went into effect this fall at UC’s most selective campuses: Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, Davis, Irvine and Santa Barbara. The other two, Santa Cruz and Riverside, are able to accommodate all eligible applicants and therefore don’t need comprehensive review to determine who will get in.
UC admits all students who meet basic eligibility requirements, but not necessarily to the campus of their choice. Comprehensive review helps determine which campus a student will attend. Applicants are judged on 14 criteria, 10 of which are academic. The other four span such experiences as overcoming something like a disability, a disrupted home life or poverty.
UC officials maintained they are not allowing race into the process and there was little evidence that happened this fall. Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians — the three groups considered underrepresented at UC — made up 19.1 percent of freshman admissions for all eight undergraduate campuses. That was the first time the number surpassed the 18.8 percent of 1997, the last year of affirmative action, but was only a slight increase from fall 2001 and follows a three-year upward trend.
Comprehensive review followed a number of admissions changes at UC including a plan backed by Gov. Gray Davis guaranteeing eligibility to people who graduate in the top 4 percent of their class, and the report says it’s difficult to pinpoint which change affected admissions most.
Previously, campuses were allowed to take half of their students using all 14 criteria and half on academics alone.
Overall, the report found no evidence the role of hardship had jumped or was being used inappropriately.
Harold Johnson of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is exploring whether comprehensive review is legal, wasn’t impressed.
“They’re too optimistic that an admissions formula that stresses inherently subjective factors like overcoming obstacles, squishy stuff like that, can ever be made to achieve the consistency, objectivity and predictability that ought to be the hallmark of a taxpayer funded educational institution,” he says.
Regent Ward Connerly, who led the move to stop considering race in admissions, said the university could work harder at dispelling concerns that comprehensive review is biased.
“People are suspicious about whether race is somehow being applied through the back door,” he says. Connerly suggested that faculty start looking at applicants denied under the process to make sure there isn’t a race-related pattern.
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