Senate Responds to Criticism of Admissions Reform
The Academic Senate is responding to concerns about UC’s new admissions policy with data, dialogue, and outreach.
In January, the Academic Council endorsed a memo from the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) responding to external groups who are worried about the potential impact of the admissions reform policy on diversity and the ability of their communities and constituencies to obtain a UC education. Some Asian American community groups have gone so far as to ask UC to overturn “Entitled to Review (ETR),” which is scheduled to take effect for freshmen entering UC in fall 2012. These groups point to simulations that project small declines in the admission of Asian-American students and some underrepresented groups, and small increases in white student admits under the new policy.
The new policy will entitle all California freshman applicants to a comprehensive review of their applications if they meet three minimum markers of college readiness:
- Complete at least 11 of 15 UC-required college preparatory (‘a-g’) courses by the end of the 11th grade,
- Maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better in these courses (GPA weighted and capped at eight semesters of extra credit for honors and advanced placement courses), and
- Take either the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT with Writing assessment.
The set of simulations in question is one of several conducted by BOARS and the UC Office of Institutional Research. All are highly speculative and some project more race neutral outcomes. UC and Academic Senate leaders have met with a number of community groups, as well as with legislators, legislative staff, school counselors, and students, to discuss the simulations and explain the goals and intent of the policy.
BOARS Chair and UCLA Professor of Education Sylvia Hurtado says that BOARS wanted to remove some of the barriers to access and broaden the pool of applicants that campuses could consider under existing comprehensive review processes. “Under the strict parameters of the current policy, some high achieving students are ineligible,” she said. “The goal of ETR is to expand the pool of applicants by removing the bright line of eligibility and capture talented students who had previously been declared ineligible for technical reasons.”
She said the shift from eligibility with a guarantee of admission to an emphasis on comprehensive review and selection has not always been well understood. Under ETR, the notion of “eligibility” disappears, but the referral guarantee remains for two groups of high school graduates. An expanded Eligibility in a Local Context program guarantees a place at some UC campus for the top 9% of graduates in each California high school, and a statewide index guarantees a space to the top 9% students statewide.
Professor Hurtado says that in developing the policy, BOARS analyzed many indicators projecting potential shifts in the applicant and admit pool, and continues to do so using different assumptions and methods. She emphasizes that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict admissions outcomes accurately, because projections are based on at least three hypothetical variables: applicant behavior, campus behavior in admissions decisions, and the behavior of applicants who are offered admission. All three variables include a high margin of error and are based on CPEC data that often vary from UC data in terms of identifying eligible students.
“BOARS conducts analyses continually, and these simulations are part of an ongoing study,” Hurtado said. “As with any simulation, they are projections, not reality. It is difficult to predict which students individual campuses will admit under comprehensive review and which of those students will choose particular campuses. In all scenarios, the proportion of Asian-American students remains very high. One goal of ETR is to bring in students who have not traditionally had access to UC, but equalizing access naturally means that when the proportion of some groups increase, others decrease. Undoubtedly, students from schools with college going cultures will adapt and be successful. The expansion of ELC to the top 9% in every high school will ensure we are reaching students in more varied school contexts across the state.”
Academic Senate Chair Harry Powell noted that ETR has been criticized both as an end-run around Proposition 209, and conversely, as something that will decrease diversity. He is confident that ETR is inherently more fair, and will cast a wider net and increase access. However, UC needs to provide as much reassurance as possible to the public and the legislature that it is trying to improve the admissions process in an honest way. “The purpose of ETR is to open the door to UC more widely, encourage academically strong students to apply, and remove discouraging barriers,” he said. “The policy will make the best students available to UC and allow campuses to select from among them using Comprehensive Review.”
BOARS has expressed its commitment to continue studying the issue up to and after 2012 and to continued dialogue and outreach to ensure the policy’s success. President Yudof maintains that ETR is fair and appropriate, but he also wants BOARS to continue its studies.
On February 2, Professor Hurtado and Chair Powell testified at a hearing of the Joint Commission on the Master Plan for Higher Education, where Professor Hurtado described UC’s progress on the admissions reform policy.
The next day, UC faculty leaders—former BOARS chairs Michael Brown and Mark Rashid, and current BOARS member and UC San Diego Professor Joseph Watson, as well as UC’s State Government Relations Director Steve Juarez—met with legislative staff from the education committees and ethnic caucuses of the California legislature to discuss the new policy.
Professor Watson felt the meeting was positive. “At the end, some attendees commented that they were no longer anxious about the policy. But legislative staff who were generally neutral or supportive also noted the difficult political position they are in with respect to critics of the policy, whom they have worked with in the past and greatly respect. They asked that UC continue to dialogue with the critics and the Asian American community and reach out to other communities as well.”
BOARS also is working to enlist the help of community and civil rights groups to increase applications from underrepresented populations. In early February, at the urging of a staff member to the Legislative Black Caucus, UC faculty met with representatives from the Los Angeles NAACP and Urban League, UCLA Black Alumni leaders, and other community organizations to discuss the admission record of African American students.
“It was an engaging and uplifting meeting because we were able to answer some questions about many issues related to admissions at UC, and listen to concerns; more importantly, they seem poised to help,” said Hurtado.
The Committee continues to emphasize its commitment to diversity and increasing the number of underrepresented students applying for and gaining admission. It is discussing ways to inform the public about the progressive, democratizing nature of the reform, noting, for example, that under ETR, nearly 90% of California high schools will double the number of students guaranteed admission to some UC campus.
BOARS also is preparing a report on Comprehensive Review for the Regents and is discussing procedures that will help admissions committees meet the Regents’ mandate to “enroll a student body that demonstrates high academic achievement or exceptional personal talent, and that encompasses the broad diversity of backgrounds characteristic of California.”
The UC Office of Admissions is developing new websites for the admissions reform policy. There will be a total of three websites: the existing site, intended for policy makers; a site for counselors; and a third site for students. UC also is developing a series of Webinars to inform staff about the new policy.
Comparing the November 2009 and January 2010 Projections:
UCOP’s enrollment projections have evolved as staff look more closely at the data. The fall 2009 projections were based on the 2007 CPEC eligibility study, which provides a sample of California high school graduates. UCOP used these data in a logistical regression analysis to create a probability of individual students applying and being admitted to each of the ten campuses based on a large and a small increase in applications.
In January, BOARS requested an alternate projection of applicants and admits under ETR, had it gone into effect in 2007. The alternate model was suggested by Professor Mark Rashid, who felt the original analysis projected applications at a disproportionate level and recommended a re-analysis. The effort followed the President’s request that the Senate continue to study the policy.
The original fall 2009 simulation and the January 2010 simulation are based on different assumptions about applicant behavior. The fall 2009 simulation assumes that the new eligibility policy will lead to a much greater increase in the UC applicant pool than the January analysis, which assumes a more modest change. The fall 2009 simulation looks at cohorts of high school graduates who were UC eligible or ineligible and who enrolled at UC or at other institutions in 2007 and assigns them a probability of applying to specific UC campuses under ETR. The January 2010 analysis assumes that ETR will stimulate an overall 12% increase in applications to the UC system. Professor Rashid believes the latter analysis is more realistic about the number of new applicants. The admit simulations depict race neutral projections across the UC system.