July 18, 2008
UC Regents to Consider Admissions Changes Issues
By Connie Llanos
A proposed new admissions policy for the University of California system could give thousands of students a better chance of getting into the elite state schools, but critics say the changes threaten to weaken educational quality.The proposal, to be discussed today by the Board of Regents, would reduce the grades, classes and admissions tests required of high school students before their applications are fully reviewed.
"All we are doing is guaranteeing more students a shot," said Mark Rashid, chairman of UC's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, which proposed the change.
"The eligibility process we have now is basically a hoop-jumping exercise," he said. "It doesn't really identify the best students in the state and instead rewards students who simply know how to navigate a complex set of requirements."
But critics say the proposal would sharply increase the pool of applicants to an already-overloaded UC system and, in so doing, could lower the academic quality of the student body.
Ward Connerly -- a former UC regent who was the chief architect of Proposition 209, which essentially ended affirmative action in California -- also questioned whether the policy change would circumvent state limits on affirmative action by leading schools to lower their standards.
"The UC system is supposed be the premier institution in California's higher-education system," said Connerly, now president of the American Civil Rights Institute, a Sacramento-based group that seeks to end the use of racial and gender preferences throughout the country.
"We already have 23 state colleges and 107 community colleges, so why should we reduce the quality or standards at the UC system?"
The proposal, with several components, would:
Lower the required GPA to 2.8, from 3.0. At the same time, it would reduce consideration of honors credit in calculating that GPA. Supporters argue that this is necessary to level the playing field for students who earn good grades but don't have the option at their high schools to take honors classes, which can boost GPAs.
Eliminate one of two required SAT tests, dropping the SAT II subject test as a requirement, something many universities in the country have already done.
Reduce the number of required classes that high school students must take to have their applications reviewed.
Discontinue guaranteed admission for the state's top 12.5 percent of students. Instead, the new policy would guarantee admission to any student who lands in the top 9percent of students in the state or their school, based on GPA and SAT scores.
Rashid said the proposal, which has taken four years to develop, came after a series of studies showed that many high-achieving students were being turned away from UC campuses.
"If you go to a high school that is not rich, there may not be enough courses to go around, or students can somehow get put in the wrong class. ... Students can fall off track through no fault of their own as early as the ninth grade," Rashid said.
He said the proposed formula would likely produce higher- achieving students since studies prove that class ranking is a better gauge for college success than test scores and GPA alone.
The proposed change in policies could encourage more students to apply, said Rosa Mejia, a counselor for Project GRAD at San Fernando High School.
Mejia said some students are intimidated and do not apply to UC campuses. Most are first-generation college students who don't know the college-application process and who lack the resources to pay for more than one standardized test or test-preparation courses.
But she said these students have overcome challenges and managed to excel in high school, proving their academic ability.
"This could give them the confidence to believe that they too can enroll at a UC," Mejia said.
Sandra Perez, who will be a senior in the fall at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, said many of her classmates will be attending community college or a California State University campus after graduation from high school.
But the 17-year-old, who has passed all UC-required courses in high school and has taken all the required standardized tests, doesn't want admissions policies to get watered down.
"If students don't have to work as hard to get in, the credibility of the school could go down," Perez said.
Still, Rashid said the idea that the proposed policy would reduce the academic quality of UC's incoming students is not backed by data.
In 2007, at least 15 percent of all UC applicants were turned away because the students failed to meet admissions criteria although 82 percent of them had a GPA of 3.5 or above, Rashid said.
"These are thousands of students who are high-achieving but invisible to us," he said.
"As the University of California, we should be bending over backwards to be fair ... to every student."
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