University of California regents conditionally endorsed a proposal Wednesday to expand admissions to the university, the latest in a series of efforts designed to broaden the applicant pool and increase diversity at UC campuses.
The "dual admissions" proposal, approved 10-1 by a regents committee, would simultaneously grant qualified students admission to a California community college and provisional entry at least two years later to one of the UC's eight undergraduate campuses.
The policy, which would take effect for students applying for admission in 2003, is to be taken up by the full Board of Regents today and is expected to win approval.
It is one of several policy changes UC President Richard C. Atkinson has proposed to create multiple paths to the university, particularly for disadvantaged students or those from low-income communities. But it was clear during Wednesday's discussion that the rapid pace of change is making at least some on the university's governing board uneasy.
In February, in a move that made national headlines, Atkinson proposed that the university eliminate the SAT as a requirement for UC acceptance. That proposal is under consideration by the faculty, which sets admissions standards, and is expected to be brought to the regents next year.
In addition, the university this year began offering guarantees of admission at a UC campus to the top 4% of graduates from each of the state's high schools. The dual admissions proposal would extend that guarantee to students who rank in the top 12.5% of their high school classes, provided they first successfully complete a transfer program at a community college.
Traditionally, the university's policy has been to accept the top 12.5% of all high school students throughout the state. The new policy does not change that basic formula, but would explicitly guarantee admission--with conditions--to the top 12.5% at each high school.
UC officials have said dual admissions could increase enrollment of black, Latino and American Indian students, whose numbers dipped sharply after the regents voted to ban race-based affirmative action programs in 1995. The numbers of those underrepresented minority students have climbed back since then but remain quite low at UC Berkeley and UCLA, the two most competitive campuses.
UC officials said the proposal could yield 1,000 new community college transfers to the system in its first year and about 3,500 in subsequent years.
Officials estimate that as many as 36% of the students admitted under the program would be African American, Latino or American Indian, up from the 18.6% admitted systemwide for the freshman class entering this fall. But they said low-income and rural students also would likely benefit.
During the three-hour discussion that preceded Wednesday's vote, however, several regents expressed concerns about dual admissions, and broader fears that the state's top public system of higher education may be lowering its standards. Others worried that the recent admissions changes could strain the university's resources.
"There are just too many unknowns here," said Regent Ward Connerly, who urged university officials to slow the pace of change, but ultimately voted for the proposal.
"During these last three or four years, we keep chipping away at quality," Connerly said. "I think we need to pause now and take stock of the changes we've made."
Student Regent Tracy Davis said dual admissions would not lower the quality of students but create a "glimmer of hope for students who are of high quality but need someone to believe in them."
The regents conditioned their endorsement of the proposal on several requirements, asking UC officials to consider raising the minimum 2.4 grade-point average eligible students would have to maintain, making sure enough funding is available for implementation, and studying whether students in the top 4% should also be allowed to participate.
The program is expected to cost about $2.5 million each year, mostly for UC counselors to work with community colleges to monitor and advise the students.