Senate Source

February 2011

Senate Backs Call for Move to “Holistic” Admissions


At the request of President Yudof, and with the endorsement of the Academic Council and the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), the Board of Regents on January 19 endorsed President Yudof’s proposed resolution regarding Individualized Review and Holistic Evaluation in Undergraduate Admissions.


The resolution states that the single-score “holistic review” process currently used at UC Los Angeles and UC Berkeley to admit freshmen should become the way comprehensive review is implemented at all UC campuses, while also allowing campuses flexibility to follow alternative approaches that are equally effective in meeting campus and University goals.


The resolution is partly a response to BOARS’ June 2010 report on Comprehensive Review in Freshman Admissions at the University of California, 2003 - 2009. In that report, BOARS recommended that all campuses implement an individualized review of all freshman applicants. That review should include a read by admissions evaluators that takes into account academic and non-academic data elements in the electronic “read sheet” and material in the application, and that evaluates each applicant’s accomplishments in the context of opportunity.


Comprehensive review, which was approved by the Regents in 2001, establishes 14 criteria as guidelines that campuses may use in selecting new freshmen, including grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and achievement in the context of opportunity. Some criteria can be evaluated mechanically and others require a read to establish a score. No applicant is denied admission to any campus without such a read, although at some campuses some applicants are admitted based upon mechanical evaluation of academic criteria. Holistic review relies on reader ratings that incorporate all information from the file to arrive at a single score used to determine admission. The holistic processes use carefully constructed criteria and are monitored closely for the reliability of the read scores.


Each campus has affirmed its intent to incorporate read sheet data into its review and selection processes. The read sheet includes contextual information such as the high school’s Academic Performance Index score, socioeconomic indicators, the number of available “a-g” and honors courses offered, and the applicant’s academic accomplishments relative to his or her peers.


Although implementation of the resolution may vary across campuses depending on their selectivity, BOARS believes individualized review will help all campuses obtain a deeper understanding of their applicant pools. BOARS asks that as campuses become more selective, they strive to ensure that every applicant receives a individualized review to reduce the number admitted solely on a limited set of factors such as grades and standardized test scores.


UCLA and UCB have agreed to share their holistic read scores with other campuses this year, and BOARS is working with the Office of Student Affairs to develop a plan for producing and sharing Berkeley and UCLA holistic read scores of every UC applicant. At least in the beginning, that may involve Berkeley or UCLA readers reviewing the applications of the cohort of students who do not apply to UCLA, Berkeley, or a campus where readers have already been trained in the UCLA/Berkeley process.


Some campuses have expressed concern that they will be forced to change from effective systems now in use to a holistic system and that the push to systemwide holistic review will require them to devote already scarce resources to the admissions process. The resolution makes clear, however, that campuses will have the ability to retain successful local systems. For example, Santa Barbara makes substantial use of local context in its selection process, and although the campus has discussed the possibility of using a single score holistic evaluation, for the near future it will sustain these practices because it believes they have led to positive outcomes. BOARS is also concerned about funding and has asked Council to help ensure that campus administrations provide sufficient funding to support a high-quality individualized review process. BOARS also wants to establish a metric for proper funding of admissions processing functions and is in the process of surveying admissions directors to find out what they believe is necessary in terms personnel and person hours to implement individualized review of all files.


In pushing for a holistic review resolution, the administration was motivated in part by the goal of improving campus diversity and climate. BOARS has made clear, however, that holistic review is not a silver bullet for climate and diversity problems, and is cautious about characterizing its individualized recommendation or the 2012 freshman admissions reform policy it authored as attempts to increase diversity. The committee says that both are efforts to develop more equitable ways of identifying academic excellence and potential. Diversity may be one outcome, but it is not the defining motivation.


BOARS stresses the importance of outreach and yield activities to the admissions process. BOARS has asked the President to emphasize that the diversity goals articulated in the resolution can best be realized with enriched and focused recruitment and yield efforts, which will attract to UC the new talent envisioned by the eligibility reform policy taking effect in 2012.