A Q&A on Admitting Undergraduates
by Jesús Mena
The undergraduate admissions process will be altered significantly by the new policy recently adopted by the UC Board of Regents. Below, Patrick Hayashi, associate vice chancellor--admissions and enrollment, answers questions about the impact of the new policies as well as our existing practices.
Berkeleyan: When does the regents' policy eliminating race, ethnicity and gender from consideration in the student admissions process take effect?
Patrick Hayashi: The regents' policy, known as "SP-1," becomes effective Jan. 1, 1997. It covers both undergraduate and graduate admission.
Race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin will no longer be permissible criteria for either regular admission or admission by exception, beginning with the fall 1997 entering class.
In their place, the president will confer with the faculty to develop supplemental criteria for consideration by the regents, taking into account applicants who, in the language of the resolution, have "suffered disadvantage economically or in terms of their social environment (such as an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional home or a neighborhood of unwholesome or antisocial influences)."
These criteria should also "provide reasonable assurance that the applicant will successfully complete his or her course of study." The supplemental criteria would apply only to regularly admissible applicants.
Berkeleyan: How will the supplemental criteria for admissions be determined?
Hayashi: SP-1 calls on the president to work with the Academic Senate to develop supplemental admission criteria. As a first step, President Jack Peltason asked Provost Walter Massey to convene a UC-wide task force to develop recommendations regarding undergraduate admissions.
According to his Aug. 2 letter, the task force membership should include leaders of the Academic Senate, administrators, students and "educators from other segments of higher education." Its recommendations will be reviewed by the chancellors, the Academic Council and the Academic Senate's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS). The president's letter specifies that the task force membership should be finalized by early September.
Berkeleyan: What would happen if race and ethnicity could not be considered in admissions decisions?
Hayashi: In April 1995, with all other UC campuses, Berkeley was asked to project the racial and ethnic distribution of our fall 1994 freshman class if we had admitted students using our current process but without consideration of race and ethnicity. Each campus presented its findings at a systemwide meeting April 26 in Los Angeles.
We ran a simulation holding all factors constant in our admissions process but eliminating any consideration of race or ethnicity. Our projections showed that the fall 1994 freshman class composition would change as follows: 1. The percentage of Asian students would increase from 41.7 percent to between 49.3 percent and 52.1 percent; 2. The percentage of white registrants would increase from 29.8 percent to between 31.8 percent and 37.3 percent; 3. The percentage of underrepresented minority students would decrease from 22.9 percent to between 7.2 percent and 13 percent.
These ranges reflect not only the statistical imprecision of the projection results but also the policy uncertainties about what methods we would actually employ. Any policy changes, of course, would originate from our Academic Senate Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education Committee.
Berkeleyan: How does Berkeley's undergraduate admissions process work?
Hayashi: Berkeley closely adheres to the U.S. Supreme Court's Bakke decision. Under our admission matrix, every applicant competes for every seat and there are no set-asides or quotas. In making its admissions decisions, the undergraduate admission office assigns freshman applicants an academic score and a social diversity score and then arrays all of those applicants on a matrix. Beginning with fall 1996 applicants, we will read the files of every UC-eligible applicant before assigning the social diversity scores.
The selection process to admit transfer students is similar but there are two differences. The academic ranking is based on grade-point average alone, and the social diversity criteria are not as complex.
Berkeleyan: When reviewing applicants, what do admissions officers look for?
Hayashi: When reviewing applicants for admission, we ask three questions:
-- What has this student made of his or her opportunities?
-- What will this student contribute to the academic and social community at Berkeley?
-- Does this student have a reasonable chance to succeed at Berkeley?
The answers to these questions, coupled with the student's academic and social diversity scores, determine whether that student is admitted or not.
Berkeleyan: Has affirmative action failed?
Hayashi: Not at Berkeley. The campus has diversified the undergraduate student body and increased the academic qualifications of every part of the freshman class. In addition, our graduation rates are the highest they have ever been, and the graduation rates for underrepresented minority students are climbing sharply.
Affirmative action is not something UC has done for underrepresented minority students. It is something UC has done for all of California. And affirmative action has served all of California well. Thousands of people from underrepresented groups have entered the middle class as a direct result of opportunities made available to them under affirmative action.
Although affirmative action has clearly not solved complex social and economic problems, it has made an enormous difference in the lives of many Californians and changed the composition of many parts of society.
The claim that affirmative action has failed because our society still struggles with widespread poverty and injustice misunderstands the complexity and causes of those problems and grossly overestimates the potential impact of affirmative action programs.
Berkeleyan: Has Berkeley lowered its standards and admitted unqualified minority students while turning away highly qualified white and Asian- American students?
Hayashi: As I mentioned earlier, Berkeley has been able to diversify its freshman class while, at the same time, greatly strengthening the class academically. If we compare by quintile the freshman class of fall 1994 with that of fall 1984 on any academic measure, we find the fall 1994 freshman class stronger from top to bottom.
The assumption underlying the allegation of lowered standards is that grades and test scores are the only measures of excellence. No selective college or university in the country, however, admits all of its freshman class solely on the basis of these measures. That is because the faculty and admissions officers in these colleges and universities understand that the definition of excellence is much more complex than simply grades and test scores.
Ninety-seven percent of the students admitted to Berkeley meet or exceed minimum UC requirements, placing them among the top 12.5 percent of California's high school graduates.
Following regent guidelines, Berkeley has historically chosen from among the full range of the top 12.5 percent, which includes the overwhelming majority of all admitted minority students. The other 3 percent are admitted by exception because they are recruited athletes or because they have overcome remarkable hardship and have demonstrated the potential to succeed at Berkeley. This 3 percent includes students of every ethnicity and racial group.
Berkeley remains extremely attractive to prospective students. For fall 1995, we received roughly 22,800 freshman applications, including more than 9,000 from students with 4.0 GPAs. Yet we had only 8,840 admission places. Because of the quality of our applicant pool and because Berkeley's admission policy is complex and takes into account multiple factors, it is inevitable that among the 14,000 students the campus denies there will be many students with strong academic records.
It is also important to note that Berkeley admits a number of white and Asian-American applicants with lower grades and test scores than many African-American and Hispanic students.
This fact again reflects the complexity of the faculty's definition of excellence and its recognition that grades and test scores are only one part--although a very important part of that definition.
Berkeleyan: Is it true that most of the minority students who enroll at Berkeley fail?
Hayashi: No. Berkeley's overall graduation rates have climbed steadily over the past 15 years and are the highest they have ever been.
The campus's current overall six-year graduation rate of 80 percent is much higher than the six-year rate of 48 percent for the freshman class of 1955, at a time when the undergraduate student body was overwhelmingly white.
Not only are the graduation rates for all students going up, but the rates for African-American and Chicano students are going up faster than the rates for Asian and white students, so that the gap between different ethnicities continues to narrow.
In addition, the rates for underrepresented minority students at Berkeley are higher than at almost all similar institutions in the country. The six-year graduation rate for African-American students nationally, for example, is 37 percent compared to 62 percent at Berkeley.
Berkeley's one-year persistence rate is the highest it has ever been: 94 percent of the freshmen who entered in fall 1992 returned for a second year.