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Study: Flawed Admissions Process Reason for Black Student Decline in California

Black applicants are being systematically blocked from the University of California system in part because of its flawed admission scheme, according to a new University of California, Los Angeles report released Tuesday.

“The objectivity and fairness of schemes ‘based on the numbers’ is taken for granted by campus officials, despite studies suggesting that numerical indicators of ‘merit’ (particularly SAT scores and weighted GPAs) should be interpreted with caution,” the report says.

The report, “Admissions & Omissions: How ‘The Numbers’ Are Used to Exclude Deserving Students,” was produced by the College Access Project for African Americans (CAPAA), an ongoing study examining the crisis of Black under-representation in California’s higher education system. CAPAA, which was established in 2002 by a grant from the Ford Foundation, is housed at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the UCLA.

“Those who are in a position to do something about the current crisis here at UCLA, for example, have been hiding behind the K-12 inequalities and they’ve been hiding behind Prop. 209 and saying, ‘Our hands are tied, there’s nothing we can do without breaking the law,’” says Darnell Hunt, director of the Bunche center.

“We are saying that’s patently false,” he says. “There is something they can do. There’s something wrong with the admission’s process.”

Black students made up a mere 3.4 percent of UC freshman accepted for Fall 2006. At the system’s three most selective universities – UC-Berkeley, UCLA and UC-San Diego — Black admits comprised 3.3 percent, 2 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. Since California voters prohibited race-conscious admissions in colleges through 1996’s Proposition 209 legislation, Black admissions at UC-Berkeley and UCLA have plunged 46 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Because of its faulty admission’s scheme, UCLA is experiencing a crisis, says Hunt. Of the 5,000 students expected to enroll in its upcoming freshman class, less than 100 are Black.

“We are going back to the 1950 and 1960s here,” Hunt says.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Black students who are eligible for admission more than doubled between 1996 and 2003, from 2.8 percent to 6.2 percent. Eligibility is based on high school course work, GPA, class ranking and test scores. UC applications systemwide increased 24 percent between 1995 and 2004, according to the study.

“The concurrent rise in both of these factors, African-American UC-eligible students and the number of African-American applicants, suggests that the low African-American admission rate at a campus like UCLA is hardly due to a limited applicant pool,” the report says.

The report instead places much of the blame for the low admissions numbers on the system’s unsound admissions format, in which merit is too narrowly defined. “Merit” shouldn’t be based primarily on GPA and SAT scores, which neglect a number of other factors that contribute to academic achievement, the report argues.

Hunt says the average GPA of the upcoming class of students at UCLA is 4.27.

“How do you get a GPA that high?” he asks. “Well you go to a private school or a well-resourced suburban school which offers 20 [Advanced Placement] courses and you get good grades in those courses. Are you more talented than the African-American student who gets a 3.9, but whose school doesn’t offer those courses? I argue no.”

AP courses are weighted, as students earn an extra point to their GPAs for earning As, Bs and Cs. For example, students who earns As in AP courses amass 5 points towards their GPAs as opposed to the 4 points underpriviledged students earn for the same grade in standard high school courses. 

“The notion that somehow the student with the 4.7, who has the opportunity to take those extra courses, merits it more than the Black student who can’t take the courses is completely fallacious. It’s a textbook case of institutional discrimination.”

Instead of changing the admissions process, UC officials point to the well-documented inequalities of the California K-12 system and the passage of Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences in admissions, to explain the chronic decline of Black students in the UC system, Hunt says.

— By Ibram Rogers

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