Who Gets In?

by Marie Felde

It will take increased outreach and a stronger partnership with K-12 schools if California's institutions of higher education are to be as diverse at the state itself, admissions experts and scholars told the state Senate Select Committee on Higher Education Admissions and Outreach.

Even then, deans of the UC law and medical schools questioned whether they could achieve the same levels of diversity as before they were banned from using affirmative action as a criteria in admissions.

The hearing on the future of university enrollment in California was held in University Hall Sept. 22. State Sen. Teresa P. Hughes chaired the session, also attended by legislators Steve Peace, Dion Aroner and Barbara Lee.

Chancellor Berdahl and Herma Hill Kay, dean of the law school, were among those addressing the committee. The morning session was devoted to law and medical school admission. Undergraduate admissions was the focus in the afternoon.

"California's social and economic future is critical to ensuring that equitable educational opportunities are available for all students, particularly those from backgrounds largely absent in the past from our colleges and universities," Hughes said in a prepared statement.

An upcoming hearing will focus on outreach and eligibility, and a third hearing will examine student transfers and financial aid.

UC law and medical school deans reported significant reductions in the numbers of underrepresented minorities in this year's classes, the first to be admitted under Board of Regents' policy SP-1, which bans the use of affirmative action.

"There was nothing magic about affirmative action per se, but it worked. Without this tool, it makes it very difficult to achieve our goal" of a school whose students reflect the ethnic diversity of society, said Michael Drake of the UCSF medical school.

Both medical and law school deans reported a dramatic decrease in the number of minority applicants and said they will redouble their efforts to make sure minority students feel welcome at their schools.

They also said that they will seek recruiting help from alumni, including raising funds for scholarships for disadvantaged and minority students. These students are often offered full scholarships to attend competing private universities.

Even with such efforts, UCLA law school dean, Susan Prager, predicted that "in five years, it will be even worse than this year," because that will be the first year UC undergraduates admitted under SP-1 will be applying to law schools.

In all the current discussion, Prager said, it is important to look at the bigger picture. She called on legislators and others to "preserve the quality of our truly great institutions" so the state will still have the best to offer students "when this dismal period is concluded."

Sen. Peace, who said he did not support Proposition 209, said that nonetheless, it is time "to get over it and stop whining and groaning" over the anti-affirmative action policy changes. Instead, he said it was time to focus on the real problem-- "the failure of our K-12 system" to produce a sizable pool of qualified minority applicants.



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