UCLA Revamps Admissions

Following drop in black enrollments, university rethinks how it will pick its freshman classes.
September 8, 2006

The number of black students at the University of California at Los Angeles has plummeted since the voter-approved Proposition 209 outlawed the use of race in admissions decisions beginning in 1996. The university projected in June that fewer than than 100 black first-year students planned to enroll this fall, which amounts to less than 2 percent of the class. More than 200 black students were part of the fall 1997 class. Administrators say that the numbers of African American students at the institution are now at the lowest levels since the 1970s.

Alarm bells have been increasingly ringing on campus regarding a situation that’s had many black alumni and business leaders calling for a revamp in admissions policies. And UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies released a report this month that said “[r]esegregation began 10 years ago with the implementation of Proposition 209” and called for administrators to find ways to address that concern.

Some administrators felt constrained to do so under the confines of the law, which does not allow for special consideration of race in the admissions process. Now, with support from many of the institution’s top administrators, some believe that a new admissions model may help turn the numbers around -- although campus officials insist that isn’t the main goal.

The renovation would be modeled on the University of California at Berkeley’s current admissions process, adopted after Proposition 209 passed. That institution's policies call for consideration of students’ achievements in the context of their life experiences. A UCLA faculty committee has already approved the framework that could lead to a change as early as this fall for students seeking to enroll in fall of 2007. Two more faculty committees are scheduled to vote on the matter by month’s end. Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams, too, has voiced his support for a change.

“We’re very excited,” said Janina Montero, vice chancellor for student affairs at UCLA. “It’s intended to provide a broader view of each applicant.”

Montero said that all students would benefit from a “holistic approach” in reviewing applications -- in which academic achievements, personal achievements and life challenges would be used as interdependent determining factors for admittance. The institution had already adopted a policy post-Proposition 209 that it described as being "holistic" as well. However, the past policy had different admissions officers weighing the separate admissions criteria independently of one another. Under the new approach, the same admissions officer would look at all three areas and have more leeway in assessing an application's overall merit.

Montero also noted the low number of African Americans who are now enrolled at the institution. “It’s a big concern,” she said. “The numbers this year reached a crisis point.”

Ward Connerly, a former regent with the UC system who helped create Proposition 209 and is generally critical of affirmative action, said that he believed the university’s response was racially motivated, rather than meant to help the whole student body. "I don't think they should be disingenous about that," he said.

Still, Connerly said he doesn't oppose the plan, since he believes "the campus should have more flexibility ... as long as they follow the law." He said that all low-income and rural students could have an advantage under the new system, regardless of their race.

Montero said that the university “will meet the law.” “We want to be fair to all students,” she said. She also said that community members and alumni could do more than the university in increasing minority enrollment by holding fund raisers, creating scholarships, and helping students at low-income high schools realize their options.

Adrienne Lavine, the departing chair of UCLA’s Academic Senate and an engineering professor, said that there is no way “to predict how this could impact underrepresented minorities.” “I’m not sure it will increase our minority admittance,” she said. “But I would be thrilled if it did have a positive effect.”

Montero said that if the faculty committees ultimately approve a new plan and hammer out its details, new admissions training and guidance from the Berkeley campus would be needed. The aim, she said, would be to have the reformatted admissions process up and running for applicants this fall.


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