University of California Weighs New Admissions Plan

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Under a proposal aimed at increasing the racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity of California's higher education system, students in the top 12.5 percent of their high schools' graduating classes would be granted provisional admission to the University of California.

Richard C. Atkinson

Richard C. Atkinson, the president of the 10-campus UC system, discussed the idea last month with a systemwide faculty council and the university's regents— who voted in 1995 to eliminate the practice of considering race, ethnicity, and gender in admissions decisions. Under current policies, students with grade point averages that place them in the top 4 percent of their own high school classes, or in the top 12.5 percent statewide, are guaranteed admission to UC.

The plan now under discussion would create "a new path" for students who do not meet the university's regular admissions standards by expanding the offer of admission to an additional 8.5 percent of students at each high school, provided they complete a transfer program at a community college.

This dual-admission program would "send a clear signal to students all over the state, from urban and rural schools, from all ethnic groups and all socioeconomic groups, that they have a clear path to a University of California degree," Mr. Atkinson said in a statement.

About 10,000 students transfer from the state's community college system to the University of California each year. Mr. Atkinson believes that number is too low. He reached a formal agreement with the community college system two years ago to increase the number of students transferring by one-third by 2005.

Thomas Nussbaum, the chancellor of the community college system, said he was delighted with the new proposal.

"What makes this so good is students will know exactly what courses they need to take," he said.

Mr. Atkinson hopes the admission plan would bring in 12,000 additional students, more than a third of them African-American, Hispanic, or American Indian. Only about 12 percent of the university's students now come from those groups. At the university's most selective campuses, such as Berkeley and Los Angeles, the figures are well below that.

The UC president's proposal would require approval from the regents as well as the faculty council. No fixed dates have been set for those votes.

The proposal follows a historic expansion of California's student-aid programs that Gov. Gray Davis signed into law on Sept. 11. The new law guarantees high school students with solid grades and financial need full tuition to state colleges and almost $10,000 a year to attend private institutions in the state. ("Calif. College-Aid Expansion Mixes Merit With Need," Sept. 20, 2000.)

Part of a Trend

A growing number of states are adopting plans that guarantee university admission to a certain percentage of graduating seniors—often referred to as "percent plans"—in the wake of court rulings that have struck down race-based affirmative action policies.

In Texas, after a 1996 federal appeals court decision in Hopwood v. Texas declared that using race as a criterion in admissions to state colleges was unconstitutional, officials decided to grant the top 10 percent of students in each high school class automatic admission to public college and universities.

In Florida, a policy change advanced by Gov. Jeb Bush eliminated race-based admissions to the state's colleges and universities in February. Now, the top 20 percent of graduating seniors from each Florida high school are guaranteed admission to one of the state's 10 institutions.

At a Sept. 12 briefing on the use of percent plans hosted by the Education Writers Association, a Washington-based professional organization, Gerald Torres, the vice provost of the University of Texas at Austin, said the Hopwood ruling had forced officials to reach out more aggressively to high schools whose graduates were not usually represented at the university.

"The University of Texas has become a better, smarter place because of the challenges of Hopwood," Mr. Torres said.

Critics of percent plans say that they are a weak substitute for affirmative action, and warn that they could encourage students to take less demanding classes to boost their GPAs.

Vol. 20, Issue 5, Pages 18, 21

Published in Print: October 4, 2000, as University of California Weighs New Admissions Plan
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