Huge Drop in Blacks, Latinos Admitted to U.Cal.

University Testing

Consistent with the predictions of campus diversity advocates, the number of African Americans and Latinos accepted at the University of California declined significantly this year, the first in which a statewide ban on affirmative action applied to undergraduate admissions.


At the University of Texas in Austin, however, a new law automatically granting admission to all students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes without regard to test scores (see Examiner, Summer 1997) partially offset a court-ordered ban on considering students' race. This resulted in no real decline in minority admissions, despite a 15 percent reduction in the total number of acceptances. Thus, the percentage of underrepesented minorities at the Austin campus is likely to increase next fall.


The Worst Impact

Not surprisingly, the largest reductions in minority admissions came at the California public colleges which rely most heavily on test scores. At U.C. Berkeley, the number of students admitted from underrepresented groups was less than half of last year's figure. At U.C.L.A. the drop-off was more than one third (see box).


For all eight schools in the University of California system, the total of African Americans accepted dropped by 17 percent and Chicanos/Latinos by 7 percent. No systemwide figures on Native Americans were available. The declines would have been far steeper if U.C. Riverside were not in the process of significantly expanding its enrollment. At that campus, the number of African Americans admitted increased by 100 and Chicanos/Latinos by 500.


It is not true, as some apologists for the new admissions rules have suggested, that students from historically underrepresented groups were replaced by Asian Americans. In 1997, 58.6% of all University of California admissions offers went to applicants from all non-white groups. This year the comparable figure is 48.7 percent. African Americans, Chicanos, Latinos and Native Americans dropped from 23.1 percent of the total to 10.4 percent even though the number of applications from these groups had increased while Asian American and white applications had fallen.


Nor is it correct to suggest that students who were not accepted at the most competitive schools were "unqualified." In fact, the Berkeley Admissions Office reported that 800 of the underrepresented minority-group applicants it rejected had high school grade point averages of 4.0 or above along with combined SAT Verbal and Math scores of more than 1200.


California Initiatives

To begin addressing the purge of African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos from the University of California system, Senator Teresa Hughes, chairwoman of the Select Committee on Higher Education Admissions and Outreach, has drafted legislation to overhaul admissions procedures. Her proposal declares that "California should discourage use of standardized tests that cannot demonstrate an absence of bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender, with all other factors held constant, and should strive to identify alternative assessment procedures for admitting talented students who can complete baccalaureate degree programs."


To reach this goal, Sen. Hughes' bill requires the University of California system to pursue a series of pilot studies of "pools of talented students . . . to which alternative admissions criteria may be applied." Among the new approaches which would be authorized for five-year experiments: admitting students in the top 10 percent of high school graduates without regard to test scores; waiving SAT II requirements for otherwise-qualified students (applicants now must take three SAT Subject tests though no minimum scores must be attained); and reconsidering applicants who fall just short of the ACT/SAT I score requirements if they meet all other criteria.


Hearings on the reform legislation will begin in late spring. FairTest has been invited to submit testimony. Meanwhile, a coalition of grassroots and academic groups hopes to qualify a ballot question to repeal the anti-affirmative action rules, but obtaining the several hundred thousand voter signatures legally necessary will be a major undertaking.


Though activists and educators had hoped the top 10 percent automatic ad-mission law would lead to significant increases in minority representation on state college campuses, they noted that students may not yet be familiar with their new opportunities and pledged to do more outreach to high school students. In any case, they argue, the rules which reward classroom performance are fairer than relying on test scores.


Texas public officials have also filed a notice of appeal challenging a portion of the ruling in the Hopwood case which created the state affirmative action ban. The action could reopen the entire case, ultimately sending it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Several civil rights groups who were rebuffed when they tried to intervene in the original suit with data showing that test scores bias admissions against minority group members (see Examiner, Spring 1996) hope that the revitalized case will create an opportunity for them to make their arguments.