As competition for places in the University of California has intensified, so, too, has concern over the issue of accessibility--a concern that is likely to grow as the state's population swells and as tuition at comparable private universities approaches $20,000 annually. California parents want assurances that their children will have a fair opportunity to be admitted.
The term one hears regarding the admissions policies of the university is "equity." To some, equity means a uniform admissions standard for all applicants, generally based on a tabulation of high-school grades and scores on standardized tests. To others, equity means enrolling a student body that reflects the composition of the state's population in relation to such characteristics as race, ethnicity and physical disability. Assembly Bill 462 explicitly defines equity in terms of a "diverse student body" and a "multicultural democracy," while virtually ignoring the issues of grades and standardized tests.
The bill's expression of commitment to diversity is laudable, and it is already in practice. The UC regents strive for a student body that "demonstrates high academic achievement or exceptional personal talent, and that encompasses the broad diversity of cultural, racial, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds characteristic of California."
For UCLA's 1990 freshman class, for example, grades and test scores alone were used to admit some 60% of the students. For the remaining 40%, supplemental criteria were applied. That criteria includes: special talents, such as ability in music or painting; special circumstances, such as physical disabilities; low family income and education and ethnic identity. It should be emphasized that in the absence of a solid academic record, the supplemental criteria would be insufficient to insure a particular applicant's admission.
Freshman admissions procedures can be easily understood by comparing two fictional but typical UCLA applicants. The first is Caucasian, a graduate of a prestigious private high school with nearly a straight "A" average and test scores in the 94th percentile. He lives in an affluent area of the San Fernando Valley and has never worked during the school year. His parents are both college-educated and have a combined annual income of $90,000. Applicant I has traveled widely in the United States and Europe and expects to have a successful career as a businessman.
The second applicant is Latino, the graduate of a public high school in a working-class neighborhood in central Los Angeles. Her academic record shows an "A-" average and test scores in the 55th percentile, despite the fact that English is her second language. Applicant II works 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time every summer. Neither of her parents completed high school and together manage an income of $29,000. Applicant II has been out of California twice to visit relatives in Texas. She has hopes for a career as a lawyer, but is apprehensive about the expense of law school.
Applicant I has obviously made the most of his privileged position while Applicant II has overcome various obstacles--the learning of a second language, the absence of educational role models in the home and the need to work after school--to arrive at the gates of UCLA. A rigid, uniform admissions policy based solely on grade-point averages and test scores would regard Applicant II as significantly less qualified than Applicant I. A truly equitable admissions policy, would not only place her academic record in a cultural and economic context but also recognizes her accomplishments as equivalent to those of Applicant I.
There is no doubt that recent UC admissions policies have been instrumental not only in providing greater access to all segments of the state's population but in revitalizing the university--particularly campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles where the movement toward diversity is most palpable.
More faculty of color will be appointed; the curriculum will expand beyond its traditional Western civilization focus to include the histories of Africa, Latin American and Asia. The university will emphasize the need to prepare its graduates to function in the "multicultural democracy" of AB 462, all the while maintaining its academic pre-eminence.
UC admissions policies also contain a substantial portion of economic self-interest. As the Anglo population of California ages, the burden of financing state government will fall on a largely minority work force. Unless that work force is sufficiently well-educated it will be unable to generate the income necessary to sustain the present standard of living in California and provide benefits for the retired, largely Anglo population. The UC commitment to diversity in its admissions policies is an investment in California's economic future.