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UC Regents Endorse Admissions Policy Change

UC Regents Endorse Admissions Policy Change

The University of California regents formally approved last month an admissions policy to judge would-be students on their personal as well as their academic records.
The policy, known as comprehensive review, was endorsed by a regents committee and formally approved 15-4 with one abstention by the full board.
Comprehensive review, which takes into account any hardships or other challenges a student had to overcome, is already in use at most elite universities. UC presently uses it to select about half the student body. The rest of the freshman classes at UC’s eight undergraduate campuses must be admitted on academic criteria alone.
Under comprehensive review, admissions officials look at grades and test scores plus such things as whether a student overcame poverty or has special talents. Critics had branded the new policy as backdoor affirmative action, banned by state law. University of California faculty endorsed the policy in October (see Black Issues, Nov. 22). Regents, however, added an amendment to the policy saying it wouldn’t be used to inject race into admissions.
As a leading public university, UC’s decision sends a significant signal to other schools struggling with how to balance academic merit with personal endeavor in an era when using subjective criteria such as race has come under legal fire.
“Whatever California does has enormous influence nationally. If it works in California, it probably would work elsewhere,” says Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. “Regents are saying to campuses: You can consider issues other than a pure academic meritocracy. As long as they’re legal, you can consider those issues.”
Comprehensive review would not change the statewide pool of students deemed eligible for entry to one of UC’s eight undergraduate campuses. That is determined by meeting grade and test minimums or by graduating in the top 4 percent of one’s high school class. UC has a policy of finding a spot somewhere in the system for all eligible students who want to enroll. However, the new policy could change who gets into the top campuses of Berkeley and UCLA.
Regents voted to drop race-conscious admissions in 1995. They rescinded that vote in May, but are bound by a 1996 state law banning most state affirmative action programs.
After race-blind admissions went into effect, enrollment of Blacks and Hispanics tumbled. The figures have rebounded since then, but there has been a reshuffling, with more Blacks and Hispanics going to lesser-known campuses such as UC-Riverside and fewer going to Berkeley and UCLA.
With the courts increasingly disinclined to approve race-conscious admissions, a debate has been raging nationally between using purely academic criteria and “what you might call social idealism,” says Ward, the ACE president. “Everybody’s experimenting in alternative ways to achieve diversity.”
— Associated Press

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