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UC Professors Propose Diversity-focused Admissions Changes

A group of University of California professors on Friday proposed changing the way the UC system admits students by putting more emphasis on an applicant’s personal background.

The proposal comes 10 years after California voters approved Proposition 209, a ballot measure that banned the consideration of race or gender in public hiring, contracting and education. The report, called “UC ‘Eligibility’: The Quest for Excellence and Diversity,” was presented Friday at a symposium at UC Berkeley on the impact of the 1996 voter initiative.

UC now draws new freshman from the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates. From that pool, campuses select students using “comprehensive review,” which looks at factors such as whether a student comes from a poor family or overcame hardship.

Under the new proposal, automatic eligibility would be narrowed to the top 5 percent or 6 percent of high school graduates. A second group of students would be selected based on comprehensive review.

The report, written by four UC professors, doesn’t spell out exactly how the second group would be selected, but suggests that a GPA of 2.6 or better might be a cutoff point.

Any changes in UC admissions would have to be approved by UC’s governing Board of Regents, but supporters of the proposal hope it will open up public discussion on how students are selected.

The report’s authors say UC’s current system is unfair because students from low-performing schools often don’t have access to college prep and honors courses and, therefore, have less chance of earning eligibility.

Using comprehensive review to look at more applicants — rather than using it only after they pass the eligibility threshold — would be a better method, said professor Goodwin Liu, co-director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, which sponsored the symposium.

“There’s a lot more to picking good students than simply looking at their grades and their test scores,” he said.

But backers of Proposition 209 said any changes to UC’s admissions policy must be race-neutral.

“We want make sure that any comprehensive review formula is not an attempt to smuggle race and ethnicity back into the admissions equation,” said Harold Johnson, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Expanding comprehensive review also would make it more difficult for high school students to prepare for UC because “their eligibility will be based on factors that can’t be quantified,” he said.

UC stopped considering race in undergraduate admissions in 1998, a change that resulted in steep declines in Black and Hispanic admissions, especially at the Berkeley and UCLA campuses. The numbers gradually recovered and are now higher than 1997 levels systemwide, but the change has not been uniform, with fewer Blacks and Hispanics at the top campuses.

Meanwhile, the gap has continued to widen between the number of Black and Hispanics graduating high school and the number admitted to UC, the report notes.

Liu said he hopes one outcome of the new report is a “very vigorous, renewed discussion about issues of access and equality in UC admissions.”

–Associated Press

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