UCLA’s New Admissions Policy Could Improve Black Student Enrollment
By Ibram Rogers
Efforts by several Black community groups and higher education researchers to overhaul University of California, Los Angeles’ admissions policy appear to be paying off.
In response, UCLA officials are moving to adopt a more “holistic” admissions policy, in which a student’s achievements are measured alongside his or her personal experiences. Last month, two faculty committees approved the reforms, modeled after UC-Berkeley’s admissions policy. The vote of the final committee is pending.
UCLA would like these changes to go into effect for those applying in November for admission next fall, says Dr. Janina Montero, the university’s vice chancellor for student affairs. To meet that goal, the university is working to convene the members of the final faculty committee so they can issue the approval in due time, she says.
“We have one to go. I’m hopeful that it will be approved,” Montero says. “We need to move at a reasonable pace here and everybody understands that.”
Those who pressured UCLA to change its admissions policy include a coalition of several Black community groups in Los Angeles. The coalition was formed in June after it was announced that UCLA would be admitting its smallest Black freshman class in more than 30 years.
The coalition, called The Alliance for Equal Opportunity in Education, is reacting to UCLA’s new approach with guarded optimism, says Chris Strudwick-Turner, vice president of the Urban League of Los Angeles. The 17-member coalition includes the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Nation of Islam and the UCLA Black Alumni Association, among others.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” says Strudwick-Turner. “So the alliance is here as a watchdog group to make sure that what they say they are going to do, they actually do, as well as take some steps beyond that.”
Ninety-six students were expected to enroll at UCLA this fall — the lowest total of Black incoming freshmen since 1973 and a 20 percent drop from the 125 Black freshmen enrolled in 2005. The Black students make up a mere 2 percent of the overall freshmen class. Twenty of those 96 students are athletes.
This academic year marks the 10-year anniversary of the approval of Proposition 209, the law barring California’s public institutions from considering race and gender in employment or education settings. The ban went into effect in 1998.
Subsequently, the number of Black students enrolled throughout the UC system declined, spawning the establishment of the College Access Project for African Americans in 2002 at UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. Since then, researchers at the center have produced a series of research reports on the admissions policy of the UC system.
“We’ve been critiquing [UCLA] now for a number of years, and we are gratified that they’ve finally acknowledged that there are some problems with the system and they are moving towards something that is infinitely better,” says Dr. Darnell M. Hunt, director of the Bunche Center and a sociology professor at UCLA. “So we are consciously optimistic that we … may have in the near future a system in place that is much fairer than the system that currently exists.”
In 2001, UC system regents adopted a comprehensive review policy for all its colleges and universities, which considers academic achievements, life challenges and personal accomplishments. But the colleges and universities were given the freedom to create their own process of reviewing those factors.
Currently at UCLA, the three review factors are read and scored independently by different evaluators. In contrast, UC-Berkeley has one reader evaluate each of the comprehensive review factors in relation to each other; a process that they say yields a more holistic approach.
With this approach, UC-Berkeley was able to admit 140 Black students (3.3 percent of the freshman class) this fall — 10 more than were admitted last fall. But the Los Angeles coalition says it won’t be satisfied with a miniscule increase in Black students at UCLA.
“Next year, given all of the things that the university said they are going to do, if at the end of the day, they have 100 or 104, that also will not be acceptable,” Strudwick-Turner says. “What we are seeking is an overhaul of the admissions policy at UCLA.”
Montero says UCLA is not changing its admissions policy to increase its Black enrollment. “Our [faculty admissions] committee for some time has been thinking about a move to a more holistic approach,” she says.
Steven R. Goodman, an independent college admissions consultant, says the change is indeed directed at admitting more Black students, but university officials won’t make such a controversial acknowledgment.
UCLA is joining a host of universities across the nation — including the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — that have moved to a more holistic admissions model, Goodman says.
“It has enabled them to recruit more students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied,” he says. “And holistic admissions is a terrific idea if the university is trying to extend its applicant pool.”
Hunt says the key to the reform process will be its implementation.
“If they actually move into the direction of implementing something close to UC-Berkeley’s system, then they are going to have to retrain a lot of the admissions staff,” he says. “They are going to have to set up a new protocol on how they handle applications. This will be a major change of how they’ve been doing admissions at UCLA since the late 1980s. It is not one of those things that you can just turn around and do. The outcome will depend upon details and also a commitment to the principles that sort of undergirds this move.”
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