The University of California is rolling out additional reforms of its admissions process after finding significant problems in how campuses track decisions to admit athletes, artists and students who do not meet minimum UC eligibility requirements, according to a review released Friday.
The sweeping audit of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses, triggered by the national college admissions scandal, found two cases of possible impropriety. One involves a student admitted as a recruited athlete who did not subsequently appear on the team roster. The other involves how one campus administers its appeals process for admissions decisions. Auditors referred both cases to the individual campuses for investigation, did not identify the universities in the report and did not provide additional details.
UC President Janet Napolitano told The Times she ordered the review as a proactive step to ensure the integrity of the nation’s leading public research university so that “California can have confidence that students admitted to the University of California are admitted on merit and so that we can bolster our defenses against any kind of fraudulent activity or gaming the system.
“Any student admitted through fraud is one too many,” she said.
The problems involve a small pool of students. Those admitted by “special exception” amount to about 1.7% of all students — 3,409 among 204,350 enrolled between fall 2017 and winter 2020. Napolitano said the regular admissions process for all others was “pretty solid” in equitably admitting students on merit.
Auditors found that no campus centrally monitored the admissions of students accepted for their special talents, such as athletics, music or art. As a result, they could not fully identify the actual number of such students, document their exceptional characteristics or identify who reviewed or approved their cases.
At many campuses, oversight of student athletes also was inadequate, the review found. UCLA and UC Berkeley require students who are admitted as athletes to participate on the team for at least a year. Systemwide policy reforms last year extended that requirement to all campuses. But the audit found that two campuses tracked practice logs at the team level but not by individual. Another campus identified a student who remained listed on the participation records a month after leaving the team.
UC admission requirements include a 3.0 GPA, the submission of SAT or ACT test scores and completion of prescribed coursework. Those admitted without meeting those requirements could include students without access to the UC-required courses — international or homeschooled students, for instance — or who may not have the required test scores or grades but show academic promise. Some slots are specifically reserved for underserved students.
Some students admitted for their special talents meet systemwide eligibility requirements while others do not.
The campus reviews were the second phase of a systemwide audit of admission practices that Napolitano ordered last year in the wake of the national college admissions scandal, which roiled elite institutions across the nation, prompting pledges of reform amid widespread public outrage.
While campuses with problems were not identified by name in the review released Friday, all nine campuses have initiated separate audit reviews and will specify corrective actions by March, Napolitano told UC regents and campus chancellors in a letter this week.
“Unethical and illegal means to gain admission will not be tolerated, and UC is committed to do everything possible to prevent fraudulent activity,” she wrote.
In the audit’s first phase, UC released a sweeping list of recommendations in June aimed at better policing of fraud and conflicts of interest in admitting students.
Those recommendations included stronger verification of claims on students’ applications, reviews of potential links between donors and applicants, and stricter scrutiny of those admitted for special talents.
The second phase sought to take a deeper dive into campus admissions practices and provided additional recommendations.
All campuses, for instance, will be required to formalize the authority and responsibilities of campus committees charged with making admissions decisions. All students admitted for their special talents must be identified and tracked and greater controls will be imposed to document any changes to student participation in athletic programs.
The greater oversight comes after Newport Beach college consultant William “Rick” Singer last year admitted to masterminding a brazen scheme in which he charged affluent parents huge sums to rig their children’s entrance exams or to outright buy their entrance into top-tier colleges by paying coaches to designate students as recruited athletes. He has pleaded guilty to several felonies.
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 50 college administrators, coaches and parents in the sprawling scheme at schools across the country. Two UC campuses — UCLA and UC Berkeley — were ensnared in the fallout.
UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo was indicted on charges of racketeering conspiracy for allegedly accepting $200,000 in bribes from Singer in exchange for helping two students gain admission to the school as soccer players, though they didn’t play the sport competitively. Salcedo pleaded not guilty and resigned from his post.
At UC Berkeley, at least one student was admitted with fraudulent test scores, prosecutors allege. David Sidoo, a Canadian businessman and former professional football player, is accused of paying Singer to fix entrance exams for his two sons. The younger of the two, Jordan Sidoo, attended UC Berkeley. David Sidoo, indicted on charges of fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, has pleaded not guilty.
The trials for both men are pending.
In addition, The Times found that UCLA knew of allegations that parents were pledging donations to its athletic program in exchange for their children being admitted to the university years before the current college admissions scandal. UC prohibits the consideration of donations or family alumni, known as legacies, in admissions decisions.
One area of concern documented in the second audit involves verification of achievements claimed by all students on admissions applications, a task outsourced to a third-party contractor. In a random sample of 25 of the 2,000 verifications performed during the audit period, auditors found insufficient documentation, lack of reviewer follow-up, missing verification forms, verification of incorrect items and missed opportunities to request alternate documentation.
One applicant, for instance, provided a computer printout of her competition history for an equestrian association, but the document lacked a seal, statement on letterhead or signature of an association official that would authenticate the claim.
Napolitano said UC officials are giving the contractor “extensive training” and also have developed a new tool to allow them to centrally monitor the verification process.
Another problem area involves access to the IT system, where admissions decisions are logged and can be changed. The audit found several campuses did not periodically review who had access or consistently monitor user activity. Auditors have recommended that campuses tighten up their practices.
“The improvements that are being recommended and will be implemented will give just greater confidence that even those who are admitted by exception or into a special talent program are worthy of being admitted to the University of California,” Napolitano said.