The Senate Source

November 2013

BOARS Report says New Admissions Policy Working as Intended

Changes in freshman admissions policy approved by the Regents in 2009 and first implemented for students entering the university in fall 2012 have allowed campuses to select a group of students who are more diverse and better prepared academically, says a new report from the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS).

In Impact of the New Freshman Eligibility Policy at the University of California: A Report to the Regents of the University of California, BOARS describes early outcomes from the new “9-by-9” policy. Some are promising—for example, higher average first-term GPAs and retention rates, and lower average probation rates for students who began at UC in fall 2012 compared to freshmen who were selected under the old policy and began in 2010 or 2011, and an increasing percentage of California high school graduates from underrepresented minority groups who declared their intent to register at a UC campus between 2010 and 2013.

However, BOARS is also careful to note that it is difficult to attribute any specific academic or diversity outcome directly to the policy. It also warns that the policy as currently structured will challenge the referral admission system over the long-term.

“BOARS has found strong evidence that admission practices under the new eligibility policy are meeting the faculty’s goals of removing unnecessary barriers, broadening access to California students, and maintaining academic quality,” said BOARS Chair and UC Berkeley Professor of Engineering George Johnson. “However, UC’s referral system is facing significant challenges that must be addressed soon in order to maintain our Master Plan commitment to California residents.”

BOARS first presented the admissions reform proposal to the Academic Council in August 2007, after four years of study and analysis. The policy underwent two rounds of systemwide Senate review in the 2007-08 academic year and was ultimately approved by the Assembly of the Academic Senate in June 2008.

The policy eliminated the SAT Subject Test requirement for basic admission eligibility and expanded the number of students identified as Eligible in the Local Context (ELC) from the top 4% of graduates in each California high school to the top 9%. The ELC students, together with students identified as the top 9% statewide based on an index of standardized test scores and GPA in UC-approved courses, are assured of admission to a UC campus – either one to which they applied or by a referral offer of admission to another UC campus that has available space.   

The policy also introduced a new “Entitled to Review” (ETR) category of California freshman applicants who are guaranteed a comprehensive review of their applications, though not a guarantee of referral admission, if they meet several minimum markers of college readiness.

In putting forward the policy, BOARS was motivated by a desire to remove unnecessary barriers to basic eligibility for admission, particularly the Subject Test requirement, which the committee determined had little predictive bearing on academic performance at UC and differentially affected underrepresented students. BOARS expected the policy changes to enrich the applicant pool with better prepared students and result in a more diverse student body.

More students are applying to UC now than under the old policy, and the report suggests that the expansion of ELC and the introduction of ETR have removed some of the barriers that may have discouraged students from applying in the past.

The academic performance of new UC students has also improved. The average first-term GPA of California freshmen rose from 2.90 in 2010 to 3.00 in 2012, while the average probation rate dropped from 10.0% to 9.1% during that period. In addition, the percentage of California high school graduates from underrepresented minority groups who submitted a Statement of Intent to Register to a UC campus increased from 27.6% in 2010 to 32.8% in 2013.

BOARS ran a standard significance test showing a very small likelihood that the change in GPA from 2011 to 2012 was due to chance. However, the report notes that competing factors, such as the larger demographic changes in California, the economy, and the transition to a single score individualized review admissions process that was implemented at four UC campuses at the same time as the new policy, make it difficult to attribute any academic or diversity outcome definitively to the policy.

“We know that the policy coincided with a large increase in applications, better prepared students, and increased diversity,” said Johnson. “The students who are enrolling under the new policy are performing well at the University, but the increase in diversity, at least, does not appear to be a direct effect of the change in admission policy.”

The report also identifies several concerns about the future of the referral guarantee, an issue that university officials have begun to investigate. One issue is that the capacity of Merced to accommodate referrals is rapidly diminishing. As that campus receives more direct applications and becomes more selective, the UC system will have no campus with space for eligible California residents who did not apply directly to that campus. In addition, the index used to identify the top nine percent of California public high school graduates is identifying well over the 9% target BOARS anticipated would be met when it developed the policy in 2008. A small adjustment to the index is planned for fall 2015, but this adjustment, the report notes, is less than the more comprehensive approach needed. More “significant adjustments” to the 9-by-9 policy and the guarantee structure will be necessary—for example, reducing the percentage of students who are identified as eligible based on the statewide index or as eligible in the local context, or changing the manner in which students are identified as eligible in the local context.  

“It is clear that there are too many students being identified as eligible overall,” said Johnson, “and that the university will have to address this soon.  BOARS remains committed to the Master Plan, and will work to propose a solution that maintains the basic structure of eligibility, but that minimizes the size of the referral pool.”