Law & Courts

Black, Hispanic Admissions Rebound at University of California

By Robert C. Johnston — April 14, 1999 3 min read

The number of black and Hispanic students offered admission to University of California campuses next fall rose after nosediving last year in the wake of a ban on the use of race in admissions decisions.

University officials credit better outreach and more comprehensive selection criteria for raising the number of underrepresented minority students to 7,439 this year from 6,822 last year, a 9 percent jump. That systemwide total is just 27 students behind 1997, the last year that race was considered in admissions.

“What we hope at this point is that the numbers level off, outreach will take deeper root, and we’ll see the numbers go up,” said Terry Lightfoot, the spokesman for the University of California.

The closely watched numbers were released by the selective eight-campus system this month. Nearly 47,000 students were admitted overall, an increase of 8.1 percent over last fall.

In 1995, the university’s board of regents voted to phase out affirmative action in admissions. In 1996, Californians broadened that policy when they approved Proposition 209, a ballot measure that barred race and gender preferences in public hiring, contracting, and education.

By 1998, the first year the ban was in place, the number of African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians offered admission to the University of California for that fall plunged from 7,466 to 6,822, a 9 percent drop statewide. That percentage was much higher, however, at the more selective campuses. This month’s numbers portrayed a modest one-year rebound.

For example, 1,390 African-American students were admitted for the fall of 1999, compared with 1,248 last year. And 5,753 Hispanics were admitted for the coming fall, compared with 4,258 last year.

The number of American Indian students admitted fell, however, to 296 this fall from 316 last year.

University administrators say they were able to increase the overall numbers, in part, by broadening selection criteria. Now, admissions officers consider such factors as students’ economic backgrounds and how many high-level courses they took that were available to them in their local schools.

Outreach Efforts

But observers say that American Indian, black, and Hispanic students will continue to be underrepresented on the system’s campuses.

“There is a very serious effort to recruit students who meet the requirements,” said Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley. “But we are so far behind [other elite universities] that I don’t think we should be celebrating.”

UC-Berkeley, one of the most selective campuses in the 145,000-student system, saw the number of students admitted from underrepresented minorities rise to 1,056 for fall 1999 from 818 last year.

But the numbers remain far below those of 1997. For example, 562 black students were admitted to Berkeley two years ago, compared with 191 last year and 276 this year.

“It’s a modest increase, but it’s an increase in the right direction,” said Janet Gilmore, a spokeswoman for UC-Berkeley.

Students who have been admitted have until next month to decide if they will attend the University of California. Meanwhile, students from low-income backgrounds will get letters explaining their financial options.

“Many people overstate the cost of higher education,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “If we change that, we increase their likeliness of going to the university.”

The university system will also continue trying to help raise the academic skills of inner-city and low-income students statewide with tutoring and after-school programs, information campaigns, and teacher education efforts.

And a new policy will be in place next year to extend University of California eligibility to the top 4 percent of graduates from each of the state’s high schools.

“Now the university can concentrate on expanding the pool of UC-eligible students from all backgrounds through our outreach efforts and partnerships with schools,” the system’s president, Richard C. Atkinson, said in a written statement.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 14, 1999 edition of Education Week as Black, Hispanic Admissions Rebound at University of California

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