Higher Ed. Outreach Plan Targets At-Risk Calif. Youths

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Hoping to increase the number of economically disadvantaged students who qualify for admission, the selective University of California system has unveiled a draft plan to expand its outreach efforts to the state's K-12 schools.

Released last month, the 50-page proposal calls for each of the nine UC campuses to create long-term partnerships with selected high schools and associated junior high and elementary feeder schools in their respective regions. The partner schools would be selected on the basis of "significant educational disadvantage," such as low numbers of college-bound students or limited college-preparatory courses.

The plan comes as the system moves toward a race-neutral policy for undergraduate admissions. Many educators fear the policy will hurt the chances of minority applicants, who often face the kinds of disadvantages the plan would address.

The proposal calls on UC campuses to establish or strengthen existing regional education consortia, which may include K-12 schools, community colleges, California State University campuses, community-based agencies, and UC alumni, staff, and students. Under the plan, the UC faculty would act as resources on issues such as curriculum enhancement and professional development.

Over the next five years, the proposal anticipates that each of the partner schools should either double its number of high school graduates eligible for entry into the University of California system or increase its rate of UC qualification by 4 percentage points, whichever is greater.

The top-achieving 12.5 percent of the state's high school students are eligible for admission to the 126,000-student UC system, although meeting the minimum requirements is not enough to gain admission at many UC campuses and programs.

In July 1995, university officials adopted a policy that eliminates the use of race, ethnicity, and gender in making decisions on admissions. Although the policy will not go into effect for undergraduates until next year, it has already begun for graduate students entering this coming fall. ("Officials Mull the Impact Of Prop 209 Legal Battle On College Admissions," Dec. 11, 1996.)

So far, the results of the policy have caused administrators some concern. At the University of California, Los Angeles, law school, for example, the number of black students admitted this year plummeted by 80 percent from last year, and the number of Hispanic students accepted dropped 32 percent.

Focus on Schools

The UC outreach proposal did not come with a price tag, but a university spokesman last week estimated that it may cost as much as $100 million per year. The university system plans to seek contributions from businesses and private foundations.

The proposal represents more than a year's worth of work by a 35-member panel, which included university faculty, students, and officials, as well as representatives from K-12 schools, community colleges, and the state education department.

Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a Washington group that works on K-12 and postsecondary school reform, said that the proposal was a step in the right direction.

Ms. Haycock, who once ran the outreach programs for the UC system, said that the new plan moves beyond an "all too typical" assumption that the problem rests with students and can be fixed by giving them individual help, rather than by fixing the schools themselves. The proposal acknowledges that there is a "school problem" in California and pledges to work at student achievement from that level, said Ms. Haycock.

Joni Finney, the associate director of the San Jose-based California Higher Education Policy Center, predicted that UC's effort would send a positive message to students. Nevertheless, she cautioned that the proposal would take a great deal of effort, commitment, and involvement at all levels of the university.

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