Despite the official adoption of a holistic review of applicants to blunt the impact of the 1996 affirmative action ban in admissions, University of California schools are still relying on traditional indicators of merit and Black student enrollment has continued to suffer as a result, according to a UCLA study released Tuesday.
Since the demise of affirmative action in 1996, nearly every university in the UC System has experienced steep declines in the admit rate of African Americans students, particularly at the Universities of California, Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego –the most selective schools in the system.
To address the lack of diversity in UC schools, UC system officials in 2002 designed an admissions policy known as comprehensive review in order "to improve the quality and fairness" of the UC admissions process by mandating that campuses consider a full range of students' accomplishments and their experiences and circumstances while prohibiting the consideration of race.
But according to a new report released by researchers at UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunch Center for African American Studies, titled “Gaming The System,” UC campuses still rely too heavily on traditional indicators of merit, such as a students’ GPA and SAT scores in the admissions process, diminishing the postsecondary opportunities for large numbers of underrepresented minorities.
The report charges that the majority of the UC campuses do not make adequate efforts to account for the disadvantages, such as the lack of resources and advanced placement and honors classes, experienced by African Americans and other underrepresented minorities in K-12 education.
“We are proposing the elimination of the SAT test to make the process fairer and more equitable for minority students. It does not add to the predictive validity of a student’s academic success,” said Dr. Ana-Christina Ramon, research coordinator for UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunch Center for African American Studies.
A national test-score gap exists, with African Americans and Hispanics having lower scores on average than White and Asian students on the SAT. Researchers have found that there is a direct correlation between SAT scores, parents education and family incomes. Since Black and Hispanics are more likely than their White and Asian counterparts to be first-generation college goers and to hail from low socioeconomic backgrounds, they are at a natural disadvantage, scholars say.
Today African Americans constitute the lowliest admitted group of students at each UC campus. While the raw number of African American admits has increased about 30 percent over the last 12 years, the number of all admits has increased as well, resulting in a decrease in the proportional representation of African American freshmen on each campus.
UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego, the most popular schools in the system, posted the highest drops of African American admit decreasing 32, 22 and 30 percentage points, respectively, since the passing of Proposition of 209, the legislation that formally ended affirmative action for UC schools.
According to researchers, racial inequalities run rampant in K-12 education. On average, schools with majority White and Asian populations have better resources, better qualified teachers, and more college preparatory and honors courses than majority African American or Hispanic schools.
Additionally, researchers say segregated and unequal schooling conditions prevent a large number of African Americans and Hispanics from accessing college. These inequities make it virtually impossible for African Americans to compete on equal footing.
A key disparity in California public schools that impacts student access to the UC is the number of Advanced Placement courses offered in high school, a critical component often missing in low-income areas.
“Students should be judged on their community involvement, extracurricular activities, creativity, tenacity and their GPAs in the context of their school. What their schools had to offer by way of advanced placement or honors classes is a critical factor,” Ramon says.
Texas and Michigan have already passed anti-affirmative action initiatives similar to California’s, while states such as Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma contemplate similar action.
Currently, the University of California’s Board of Admissions and Relations is working to reform the eligibility criteria to broaden the scope of eligibility for students who attend schools that don’t offer courses required to apply to a UC school. They are pushing to end the SAT II subject test, as a requirement noting that some minority students may not have access to these tests.
Ramon advises those states looking to follow California footstep adopt similar measures. “Public schools [funded by the state] have an obligation to serve the surrounding community. There is no reason why these schools shouldn’t reflect the diversity of the community that surrounds them,” Ramon says.
–Michelle J. Nealy
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