The prestigious University of California system has raised the minimum grade point average needed for acceptance, a move some argue will hurt the chances of many African-American and Hispanic students to gain admission.
The board of regents voted 14-6 on Sept. 23 to increase the minimum gpa required for admission to a 3.0, from a 2.8. The change will go into effect for the freshman class entering in 2007.
“Tightening our eligibility standards is a difficult thing to do,” said George Blumenthal, the chairman of the UC system’s academic council, during the board’s closely watched meeting. He added that faculty members had developed a plan “that would emphasize academic achievement in high school, have the least negative impact on any one demographic group, and provide adequate notice of the changes to students.”
The state’s 1960 master plan for higher education dictated that only one-eighth, or 12.5 percent, of the state’s high school graduates should be eligible for admission to the UC system, which enrolls just over 154,000 undergraduate students on nine campuses across the state.
This past May, the California Postsecondary Education Commission reported that 14.4 percent of graduates were eligible for admission under the current criteria, up from 11.1 percent in 1996.
The May report raised red flags because it showed that the percentage of students eligible for admission to the UC system was well above the targeted rate, which in turn promised to strain even further the already financially strapped system. Minority admission rates to California’s public colleges and universities has been an emotional issue, especially since 1996, when voters approved Proposition 209, which barred the use of race in making admissions decisions and in other publicly funded programs.
Currently, the percentage of California high school graduates estimated to be eligible for UC admissions, by race and ethnicity, under the current 3.0 threshold is 5.2 percent for blacks, 5.7 percent for Hispanics, 29 percent for Asian-Americans, and 14.7 for whites. Those rates would not change by more than a percentage point for any one group, according to UC estimates.
Nonetheless, the Sept. 23 vote drew strong protests from several Democrats in the state legislature, civil rights groups, and students.
“If the regents were going to change the admission policies, they should have done it in a way to increase black and Latino student representation,” said Yvette Felarca, the Northern California coordinator for By Any Means Necessary, a grassroots student group that promotes civil rights and affirmative action policies. “California is the first state that is a majority minority state, yet California has been leading the nation in resegregation.”
She and several dozen other college students held a rally after the vote, chanting “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.”
California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez questioned whether the cpec data were accurate, and urged the regents to re-examine the 44-year-old master plan’s policy.
Tightening admissions criteria “sends the wrong message to students and families and undermines the improvements we have made that have resulted in more students meeting UC’s current standards,” Mr. Núñez said in a written statement to the board. “We should at least take the time to get more accurate data on eligibility and take the time to examine the eligibility target itself in light of our 21st century needs for an educated workforce.”
But the regents’ written explanation for the policy shift said that they chose to increase the minimum gpa, rather than increase the minimum test scores or require more rigorous high school courses, because they felt it would have “the least negative impact on the populations that are now served at UC.”
The impact from the change will be felt equally by students of all backgrounds, the report said.
“This is not a policy the regents would have even considered unless they had the requirement to keep the eligibility numbers at the level the master plan identifies,” said Michael W. Kirst, a co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent research and policy group, and an education professor at Stanford University.
The UC system includes campuses in Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. A 10th campus in Merced is scheduled to open in fall 2005. Eligibility is based on a formula that includes gpas, test scores, and high school courses.
According to the Board of Regents, 75 percent of incoming UC freshmen have gpas of 3.5 or higher, and many of the individual UC campuses require an even higher gpa for admission.
The regents had postponed discussion on the new admission standards from July until last month. Initially, they had considered a plan that would increase the minimum gpa to 3.1, but decided against that move because they feared it would cut off too many students.
The new plan is expected to reduce the number of high school graduates who are eligible for admission by up to 750 each year, to about 12.8 percent of the state’s high school seniors. In 2003, more than 48,000 students were eligible, although many chose not to attend UC schools.