New admissions plan meets with concerns

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

24 October 2001 | The UC Board of Regents last week reacted cautiously to a faculty proposal to admit all undergraduates based both on their academic record and on how they have handled obstacles and opportunities.

At their Oct. 17 meeting in San Francisco, the regents raised questions about academic standards, public confidence and funding, should a scheme for revamping the admissions process be adopted.

Currently, each campus admits 50 to 75 percent of its undergraduate applicants solely based on academic criteria — which can include grades, standardized test scores, classes taken, and other evidence of academic achievement. (Berkeley admits 50 percent on this basis.) The remaining applications get a “comprehensive review,” taking into account factors like community service, athletic accomplishments and socioeconomic background, in addition to scholastic achievement.

The new proposal would broaden the evaluation criteria for undergraduate applicants and guarantee that no student is denied admission without a review of his or her file. Those who meet basic UC eligibility standards would continue to be assured entrance to UC. Comprehensive review could, however, affect who gets into which campus.

“My bias is to evaluate the whole student,” said Regent Sherry Lansing. “Trying to evaluate someone on just a number is a very dangerous thing.”

Skeptics expressed concern that the comprehensive review process would lower academic standards and inject race into UC’s admissions process.

“We do want well-rounded students, but we’re not the Rotary Club,” said Regent Ward Connerly. “We’re trying to select scholars.”

At Berkeley, every freshman application file is already read cover to cover and given both an academic score and a comprehensive review. The academic score evaluates achievement in the context of opportunity, which is a tenet of the new admissions proposal. In accordance with regental policy, 50 percent of the students are admitted based on their academic score alone. For the remaining students, comprehensive review criteria, in addition to academic achievement, are taken into consideration.

Professor Calvin Moore, chair of the Academic Senate committee that sets Berkeley’s admissions policy, shared data comparing the freshman class at Berkeley before and after 1998, when the campus first implemented a comprehensive review system.

The statistics on high school GPAs, SAT scores and scholastic performance at Berkeley demonstrated that academic standards are not eroded by taking a broader look at students’ files, he said.

Some Regents questioned whether the public would feel confident that the comprehensive review process is fair, since decisions would not be based exclusively on quantifiable factors.

“Are we going to be continually explaining ourselves to the public?” asked Regent Sue Johnson. “Will we retain their confidence?”

Fairness, academic excellence and openness are essential to any UC admissions scheme, said Berkeley Professor Jack Citrin, who questioned whether these principles can be maintained under the comprehensive review process.

Others asked how the University would find the resources to administer the new admissions system.

Comprehensive review would amount to a “sea change,” noted Regent Sherry Lansing. “What we are trying to do is extremely difficult. But because it is difficult does not mean we shouldn’t do it, because it will get us to the best pool of students.”

UCSF Professor Dorothy Perry, chair of the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools — the Academic Senate committee charged with formulating admissions policy — presented the committee’s formal report on the proposal, followed by comments from a faculty panel.

If approved by the systemwide Academic Senate at the end of this month, the proposal will come before the regents in November. It would take effect for students who apply to enter in fall 2002.

Campuses have been preparing for comprehensive review for months, and, according to Perry, all are ready to implement it for this year’s applicants.


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Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
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