Acceptance of Blacks, Latinos to UC Plunges

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The number of African Americans accepted by UC Berkeley has plunged 66% and the number admitted to UCLA dropped 43% as the state’s premier public institutions announced the first freshman class in two decades picked without any preference for race, ethnicity or gender.

Declines among Latinos were somewhat smaller but still substantial--53% at Berkeley and 33% at UCLA.

Those figures complete a picture that began taking shape last month when other UC campuses released their admissions statistics, most of which showed large declines in black and Latino admissions. UC Irvine, for example, had 19% fewer admissions of African-Americans and 8.6% fewer Latino newcomers.


The new figures mean that fewer than 200 African Americans were among the more than 8,000 students admitted to Berkeley--the lowest number of blacks since 1981. At both campuses, freshman Latinos and blacks will be at their lowest levels in more than a decade.

The numbers are certain to drop further as the admitted students--nearly all of whom have acceptance letters from more than one school--decide where they will attend this fall.

As has been true for several years, Asian Americans will be the largest group at UCLA and Berkeley, somewhat outnumbering whites.

With the elimination of affirmative action, UCLA and Berkeley--as well as most other UC campuses--gave extra consideration in the admissions process to applicants who come from poor families, are the first in their family to try for college or have overcome adversity to excel in school.

Although those adjustments helped some blacks and Latinos, they were “vastly outnumbered by low-income white and Asian students,” said UC Berkeley admissions director Robert Laird.

UCLA, UC Berkeley and other UC campuses are launching aggressive recruiting drives to persuade the minority students they have admitted to come to their schools. In many cases, they will be facing off against the nation’s elite private schools offering full scholarships.


“There is much more competition for these top students,” said UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale. Even with the outreach, he conceded that “if everything is the same as last year, our number of underrepresented minorities will go down” further as students sort out their options.

UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Berdahl said he will “personally phone as many of these students as I can.” UCLA is planning “phone-a-thons” with faculty, students and alumni to woo the best and brightest to join next year’s class.

But Carnesale said he is worried that Tuesday’s admission figures might scare away some black and Latino students with the message that “they are not wanted, nor welcome at UCLA.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “These students are wanted and needed more than ever.”

Berkeley experienced a larger drop than UCLA in admissions of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans--the types of students the university calls underrepresented minorities--for a couple of reasons:

First, Berkeley is the most competitive of any UC campus, accepting only 27% of its 30,000 applicants, while UCLA admitted 33% of its 32,600 applicants. Because African American and Latino high school students on average have lower scores, Berkeley’s tougher standards meant fewer of them were admitted.


Second, UC Berkeley last year relied more heavily on affirmative action to boost its numbers of African American and Latino students, while UCLA had for years incorporated race and ethnicity in a more elaborate formula that gave extra consideration for underprivileged backgrounds.

The increases in white and Asian American students were masked somewhat in this year’s statistics by an unprecedented 150% jump in the number of students who declined to state their ethnicity. UCLA officials, by cross-checking the figures against other data, determined that at least 80% of those who declined to state their race were white or Asian American.

Admissions officers believe the increase had to do primarily with a change in the format of the application, which placed the racial checkoff boxes at the end of the application and stressed that providing such racial information was voluntary.

Admissions officials said they have no explanation why whites and Asians are more inclined to opt out of stating their race.

Yet Ward Connerly, the UC regent who championed the ban on affirmation action, said he sees it as a lingering sign of distrust that the university is engaged in reverse discrimination.

“They are Asian and white kids who think they are going to be disadvantaged if they reveal who they are,” Connerly said.


University of California policy allowed some preferences in admission for race, ethnicity and gender since the late 1970s until UC regents abolished affirmative action in 1995. While admissions officers worked on the new race-blind procedures, California voters approved Proposition 209, making affirmative action illegal in all public institutions.

The new rules took effect for graduate students last year, resulting in significant drops in underrepresented minorities accepted by UC’s law and medical schools.

In addition to UCLA and Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara has seen declines in undergraduate admissions of minorities, with the number of African Americans admitted there dropping 14% this year, and Latinos by 23%.

But no campus has been hit with as big a drop as Berkeley, where Chancellor Berdahl met with some students and faculty in his office about helping with minority recruitment.

“The exclusion of Latino and African American students is unacceptable to me,” said Ronald Takaki, a UC Berkeley professor of ethnic studies, voicing an objection commonly heard at the campus. Takaki called for throwing out SATs in admissions decisions and making other wholesale changes.

“We should overhaul the system,” he said.

Berdahl defended the university’s admissions officers, saying they have done a “remarkable job” and the best they could for underrepresented minorities under the constraints of the law.


He described his own reaction as “a mixture of disappointment, anger, frustration, hope and resolve.”

Both sides should quit pointing fingers and telling each other “I told you so,” he said.

Meredith Khachigian, chairwoman of the UC Board of Regents, termed the new figures “a call to action.”

“The clear message,” Khachigian said, “is that all of California, not just UC alone, must work hard to prepare greater numbers of children from all backgrounds to success in school and to motivate them to pursue a university education.”

Connerly lauded efforts to improve the schools, but also suggested that even if it is “politically incorrect,” society should “put some of the burden back on [black and Latino] families and students themselves for not taking advantage of opportunities.”

“If they are not ready for Berkeley or UCLA, then they should go to a community college and get prepared so they can transfer in. We should not be admitting people to Berkeley or UCLA who are not ready to go to Berkeley and UCLA,” he said.

But as they have done before, UC officials rejected the notion that the students they admitted in the past--or those they were turning away now--were unqualified to attend.


Pointing out that UCLA’s admitted class has an average weighted GPA of 4.19 and average SAT scores of 1,324, undergraduate admissions director Rae Lee Siporin said she and her staff had the troubling task of rejecting “two-thirds of the students who apply to us”--many of whom have 4.0 GPAs and 1,250 SAT scores.

“All these students are outstanding,” Siporin said. “And what affirmative action meant in the past was that in selecting from the outstanding students, having some kids who are African American or Chicano.”


Weiss reported from Los Angeles and Curtius from Berkeley.


Dramatic Drops

Figures on the makeup of this fall’s freshman class show the dramatic impact of eliminating affirmative action in admissions.

UC Irvine:


1997: 1,412

1998: 1,291

African Americans

1997: 303

1998: 246

* Figures do not include about 250 athletes and others whose admission status is pending, but officials say most of those students are white.

Sources: UCLA, UC Berkeley