New Admission Policy Prompts Diversity Debate

Matt Matejcek, Daily Nexus (UC Santa Barbara), April 8, 2009

A new UC admissions policy meant to increase diversity has prompted backlash from some who charge that the changes give an unfair advantage to white applicants at the expense of prospective Asian-American students.

Starting in 2012, the University will no longer consider applicants’ scores on the SAT II Subject Tests. The change, which would shift the focus to the SAT I Reasoning Test, was made in an attempt to broaden student eligibility university officials said. However, evidence from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing has shown that Asian-Americans generally outperform other groups on the SAT II while white students do better on the SAT, thus creating a potential disadvantage for the former.

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The 2009 California Postsecondary Education Commission eligibility study predicts a drop in the percentage of Asian-American students accepted into the UC system from 36 to 29 percent. It also forecasts a rise for white applicants’ acceptance from 34 to 44 percent. The changes estimated for black and Latino applicants admitted were both within one percent.

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In response to concerns over the implications of this new policy, Chancellor Henry T. Yang has stated that the intent of the change is to promote diverse access to the leading public university.

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Ada Marie Sison, a first-year student at UCSB, said she is concerned about the new and troubling questions raised by the findings of the eligibility study.

“It’s a bit discouraging to hear,” Sison said. “If you’re going to tinker with one SAT test, you should tinker with them both. Maybe create one whole new test altogether. This policy change just makes me feel like there won’t be an even playing field for the upcoming 2012 applicants.”

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The University of California on Tuesday fended off growing criticism of its new admissions standards, telling state lawmakers it would help poor and minority students get a college education.

Hounded by Asian-American legislators and community groups since adopting the changes in February, university officials told a legislative panel the reforms would open the university to thousands of students who are not eligible now.

The university has estimated that nearly 4,000 more Asian-American and Pacific islander students would have had their applications considered this year under the new policy, which takes effect in 2012.

That increase compares to about 1,800 more black students, 7,500 more Latinos and 15,000 more whites.

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Lawmakers and Asian-American groups repeated their criticism that the university should have sought much more public input before approving the change.

The university should rescind the reforms until more data is available, particularly on the possible effects on Asian-American and Pacific islander applicants, state lawmakers said at the legislative hearing in Sacramento.

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Tuesday’s hearing was the latest evidence of growing discontent with the university among Asian-Americans. At a San Francisco conference last week, several legislators, educators and community leaders also called for the changes to be rolled back.

The UC Board of Regents in February approved a proposal to remove the SAT subject test as a requirement, although the SAT reasoning test will remain a prerequisite.

Supporters of the reforms have said the subject tests prevent poor and minority students from applying. Asian-American applicants tend to perform well on those tests, critics say.

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UC leaders on Tuesday reiterated their intention to go ahead with the changes in 2012.

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The debate has illuminated the diversity of countries and views represented among California’s Asian population.

Although Chinese, Korean and Japanese students are well-represented on UC campuses, Pacific islanders and southeast Asians–many of whom live in poverty–are not.

The Sacramento hearing illustrated the confusion surrounding the new requirements. After one legislator cited estimates released by the university, Rashid said there was no way to predict how the standards would affect different ethnic groups.

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