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Minority Admissions Drop Sharply at Calif. Universities

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The number of black, Hispanic, and Native American students accepted to California's two most selective public universities has plummeted for the first undergraduate class covered by a ban on race-based admissions preferences.

The University of California, Berkeley, announced last week that 191 black students were accepted for the fall 1998 freshman class, a 64 percent drop from the 562 blacks accepted last year. Last year, 1,266 Hispanic applicants were accepted, compared with 600 Hispanic students accepted this year, for a drop of 53 percent. The 27 American Indians accepted represented a 59 percent decline from last year's total of 69.

The nationally regarded Berkeley campus has sent 8,034 acceptance letters to a record pool of 30,000 applicants.

"I can tell you that, personally, I am very disappointed that our entering class will not better represent the impressive diversity that distinguishes this state," UC-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said during a press conference.

The story was similar at the University of California, Los Angeles. Compared with admissions for the fall of 1997, the number of blacks accepted for 1998 fell 42.6 percent, from 488 to 280. The 1,001 Hispanics accepted marked a 33 percent drop from last year's total of 1,497. The 46 American Indian acceptances were 43 percent below last year's total of 81.

This is the first fall admissions cycle in which state college officials in California have been prohibited by state law from using race as a criterion in undergraduate-acceptance decisions.

The University of California regents voted in 1995 to phase out race and gender preferences in admissions. In 1996, California voters reinforced that policy by passing Proposition 209, which ended race and gender preferences in all public hiring, contracting, and education.

With other states facing similar challenges to affirmative action programs, the California admissions figures were being closely watched. ("Colleges Retool Outreach Efforts As Affirmative Action Changes," March 18, 1998.)

Eyes on California

"We are very concerned about the numbers," said Judith Winston, the executive director of President Clinton's Initiative on Race."But this is not unexpected."

She said that minority admissions will likely be a big topic during the "Campus Week of Dialogue," an event that the president's task force is sponsoring this week at colleges across the country.

Texas is also facing declining minority enrollment in its most selective state universities, but the decline is not as sharp as in California. The University of Texas at Austin, which is under the second year of a court-ordered ban on racial preferences in admissions, accepted 296 black students for fall 1998, down 6 percent from 314 this time last year. But 1,333 Hispanic applicants received offers, just two fewer than last year.

Meanwhile, California officials urged caution in interpreting data, which may be skewed because numerous applicants did not state their race. Final tallies will not be known until acceptance decisions are made.

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