October 17, 2018

Don’t Mess with College Admission Policy That Works

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                October 25, 2015

For decades, California has debated how best to admit applicants to its public universities, to help foster upward mobility.

The University of California and California State University considered race and ethnicity as key elements in evaluating students for admission, until voters approved Proposition 209, which banned such preferences.

Ever since, some advocates allege the “elitist” university was turning its back on groups that were under-represented and historically discriminated against.

The subtext is that our public universities ignored their potential to be vehicles to offer the disadvantaged and people of lesser means the opportunity to advance. By focusing on test scores and grade point averages, the critique goes, people of lesser means weren't able to compete. That would be a substantive shortcoming, if it were true.

Defenders of California universities' policies-we count ourselves in this group–point out that California recruits disadvantaged students, no matter their race and ethnicity. University of California and California State University campus outstrip most universities in their class by admitting far more students who are Pell Grant-eligible, meaning their families earn $70,000 or less annually.

Admittedly, the question lingers, even among defenders of the system, that perhaps the universities did a great job in recruiting but that retention of the disadvantaged students was a thornier issue.

Well, a definitive answer came last month from an unbiased, highly reputable source that crunched numbers, and found that the UCs are among the best at recruiting disadvantaged kids, and unmatched at getting them through the system.

The University of California budget woes have deeply affected campus life. Yet the system's nine campus lead the nation in providing top-flight college education to the masses.

The New York Times“>College Access Index” that it developed to determine how well a university does after it has admitted poor kids. Using several metrics to determine accessibility and chances for success for disadvantaged students, the Times concluded that of the top 10 schools in the country that “are doing the most for low-income students” “> told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board that he wants to help more poor minority kids to be admitted to the University of California.

How about more poor kids, no matter their race or ethnicity? Who will tell the poor kids who aren't racial or ethnic minorities that they won't be admitted because they aren't disadvantaged in the right way?

California leaders who care about education ought to be taking a victory lap for a system that has maintained excellence and world academic leadership while truly diversifying its student body with those in need of a hand up. We all should hope that political posturing won't mess it up.