Admissions Alternatives at Large Public Universities

University Testing

Challenges to affirmative action at state university systems in Michigan, California, and Washington (among others) point to a need for large public institutions of higher education to consider alternative ways to enhance student diversity. While policies such as the “Top 10% Rule” (Texas) or the “Top 4% Rule” (California) take a first step toward preserving diversity, even stronger changes can be instituted. In their 1997 Journal of College Admissions article “How Can Public Universities Still Admit a Diverse Freshman Class?” Eugene Garcia, Robert Jorgensen, and Colin Ormsby describe a series of changes appropriate for California and elsewhere:


1. Eliminate standardized tests in admissions decisions. The SAT and ACT have been shown to be poor predictors of college success, particularly for students of color. The gaps in test scores between Whites and students of color further result in the tests acting as gatekeepers to otherwise qualified students.
2. Develop criteria that reflect the mission of the campus. Rather than comparing applicants to one another, admissions officers should use criteria that will bring together a student body representative of diverse communities and interests.
3. Increase the value given to references from high school teachers. Teachers who have already recommended successful students will likely support others with strong potential.
4. Honor the achievements of students in spite of resource-poor schools. Students from families with low-SES, low levels of parental schooling, or other “risk” factors face particular challenges in school. Their academic success may be particularly meaningful.
5. Weigh high school classes equally. Giving extra points for honors and AP courses favors students from more affluent schools (where there tend to be higher numbers of such courses) and may over-predict college success.
6. Examine the ability of the SAT to predict academic success. Researching the ability of the SAT and other admission criteria to predict academic success will help universities gain a more accurate picture of those criteria that positively contribute to sound admissions decisions.
7. Open a pipeline from community colleges. At places such as UC, where the SAT is not a requirement for transferring from community college to a four-year university, students have an opportunity to demonstrate academic ability beyond high school.