University of California Eyes Admission Changes

Lisa Leff, AP, July 14, 2008

The University of California’s admissions standards would undergo their most far-reaching overhaul in decades under a faculty proposal that would allow students who have not completed the prescribed college-prep courses or earned minimum test scores to have their applications considered.

Starting with the freshmen class of 2012, the revised policy also would promise a spot on one of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses for all students who graduate in the top 9 percent of their senior classes, compared with the 4 percent now promised admission.

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Under the faculty plan, the guaranteed admission target would drop to about 9.7 percent to create space for students who have not met the eligibility criteria by the end of their junior years, as is currently required, but who can demonstrate they are on the right track with classes and preliminary test scores.

Such students would not be promised slots within the system up front, but would be “entitled to review” by individual campuses that could factor in such elements as their backgrounds and extracurricular activities before deciding to offer admission.

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“They are going to look at people’s assets more broadly than what was captured by the SAT and a set of courses. That is a pretty positive model, and a difficult one to challenge,” Longancre said [David Longancre, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.]

The proposal, which has been in development for two years and was approved on a 38-12 vote last month by the legislative arm of the university’s Academic Senate, has not been without critics, however.

By moving away from a standardized, in or out admissions formula, toward one that allows for some subjectivity, UC would be abandoning a principle that has made it a leader in higher education for almost half a century, said Saul Geiser, a UC Berkeley education professor.

“The proposal eliminates a central feature of the ‘social contract’ between the University of California and the citizens of the state—any student who works hard in high school and meets UC’s established eligibility requirements is guaranteed admission to the UC system,” Geiser said. “Rather than being assured of admission to the UC system, students will be subject to the uncertainties of each campus’ admissions.”

But Rashid said his committee, which is charged by the Board of Regents with revising the freshman eligibility policy, found that the current system did not produce unyielding equality, but was a model of “structural unfairness” that penalizes students from less-privileged backgrounds.

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“Demographically, they look far more like the state of California than the fully eligible pool,” Rashid said. “These are students we should be bending over backward as a public institution to be fair to, and yet we are bouncing them for these silly reasons.”

Besides creating the new “entitled to review” category and expanding the automatically eligible pool to include the top 9 percent from every public and private school, the proposal would eliminate the two SAT subject tests as an entrance requirement. UC, which started mandating the subject tests as a condition of admission during the 1970s, is the only large public university system to require them, Rashid said.

Taken together, the changes would allow about 20 percent of the roughly 350,000 students who graduate from California high schools each year to be considered for admission to UC campuses, up from the current 12.5 percent, Rashid said. But again, only about 9.7 percent would be guaranteed admission if they apply, he said.

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