Hopwood, Prop. 209 Fallout Spurs Admission Reforms

University Testing

New evidence about the impact of affirmative action bans on minority enrollment in California and Texas confirms many of the worst fears of civil rights and admissions reform advocates. The data have spurred advocates of equity and excellence in higher education to begin overhauling admissions policies which rely heavily on test scores.


At the University of Texas in Austin, for example, last fall's entering law school class, the first admitted after the Hopwood court ruling went into effect, included just 4 African Americans, 26 Mexican Americans, and 3 Native Americans. A year ago, the comparable numbers were 31 African Americans, 42 Mexican Americans, and 5 Native Americans. These groups now comprise barely six percent of the first-year law school class in a state where minorities are 44 percent of the college-age population. Similar declines took place at the state's three other public law schools.


Rather than simply mourning the "death" of campus diversity, the Austin law school faculty has announced that several new factors will be considered in addition to Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores and undergraduate grade-point average. To identify and encourage applicants from socially disadvantaged background, criteria will now include an essay about "personal challenges" faced. In addition, "commitment to public service," "leadership," and having experiences not already "well-represented in the student body" will be considered.


At the undergraduate level, a new state law has eliminated any test score requirement for applicants to the state university system who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school classes. For other students, test scores will be one of more than a dozen factors to be considered by public college admissions officers (see Examiner, Spring and Summer 1997). The revamped policies at both the undergraduate and law school level are going into effect for the classes being admitted this spring, apparently without significant opposition.


Even President Clinton, a strong advocate of testing at the K-12 level, praised the new Texas undergraduate admissions formula. At a December 17, 1997, news conference, Clinton noted "We know that performance on the SAT scores is not a perfect predictor of capacity to learn and capacity to perform in college, because there are some people who just won't do as well because of the experiences they've had, but they're capable, given the chance, of making a huge leap in college." Responding to a follow-up question, the president elaborated, "Texas has now adopted an alternative which I think will work apparently well for them for undergraduate schools."



In California, where new admissions rules mandated by both the voter-approved ballot question Proposition 209 and the state Board of Regents were implemented at the graduate school level last fall, the impact has been most profound at U. Cal. professional schools.


The number of Latinos enrolling at the five business schools in the university system was cut by more than half -- from 54 to 25 students. African American entrants into the MBA programs dropped from 27 to 20. Significant impacts were also felt at the state's law and medical schools. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is conducting a probe of the new graduate school admissions policies.


One of the steepest drop-offs in non-Asian minority enrollment was at the U. Cal. Berkeley law school, known as Boalt Hall. There, only one member of the 1997-98 entering class is African American, and 14 are Latinos. In response, the Boalt Hall faculty agreed to closely review the portfolios of the 150 applicants highest ranked by a "coefficient of disadvantage," which includes family income, parental education and quality of high school attended. From this group, at least 30 will be offered admission. In addition, the faculty voted to read a higher percentage of regular applications and to ignore small differences in LSAT scores.


Concerned about similar impacts for undergraduate admissions when the affirmative action ban goes into effect at that level this fall, some California policy-makers and activists have begun organizing to challenge the false claim that "test scores measure merit." To focus the debate, State Senator Teresa P. Hughes, chair of the Select Committee on Higher Education Admissions and Outreach invited FairTest to testify before the state legislature on test-score optional policies. The state university's Latino Eligibility Task Force has already called for making the SAT optional (see Examiner, Fall 1997)


FairTest staff are also working with activists in Michigan, Washington and Georgia where admissions systems are under attack. Additional funding is being sought to expand this most important work.


* A copy of FairTest's statements before the California legislature is available by sending a stamped, self-addressed, business-sized envelope to "Testimony" at FairTest.