Cal State L.A. plan to raise admissions standards faces pushback from students and faculty

Cal State Los Angeles students walk across campus. University officials are considering a plan to reduce the incoming class by 600 students and raise requirements for GPA and standardized test scores for fall 2020.
Cal State Los Angeles students walk across campus. University officials are considering a plan to reduce the incoming class by 600 students and raise requirements for GPA and standardized test scores for fall 2020.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

Each year, thousands more qualified students apply to Cal State L.A. than the campus has the funding or space to accommodate. Now campus officials want to raise admissions standards and shrink the fall 2020 class.

If officials decide to do so and the Cal State chancellor’s office approves, Cal State L.A. will join six other Cal State campuses — Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, San Diego, San Jose and San Luis Obispo — that declared themselves fully “impacted,” meaning they have too many qualified applicants for all levels and programs, and made similar changes.

The Cal State L.A. proposal would reduce the incoming class by 600 students and raise requirements for GPA and standardized test scores including the SAT and ACT for fall 2020. Departments also would be allowed to set more admissions criteria — evaluating high school coursework in a particular subject, for example, or assessing an art portfolio.

Students and faculty who oppose the proposal say it would change the culture of the campus and push admission further out of the reach of the disadvantaged students the Cal State system is meant to serve.

Students walk on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

“Impaction is like a plague spreading through the CSU,” Alejandra Marchevsky, director of Cal State L.A.’s women’s and gender studies department, said at a public hearing about the proposal Thursday night. “We’re going to stop that cascade.”

But Cal State L.A. Provost Lynn Mahoney said the university’s hands are tied.

Campus enrollment has increased by 25% since 2012 while funding for expanding enrollment has gone up only about 2%. The campus already serves about 5,400 more full-time students than it receives state funding for, she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed an increase in state funding that would help the Cal State system enroll 8,100 more students in 2019-20. Cal State L.A. spokesman Robert Lopez said that 2% enrollment increase won’t be nearly enough to meet demand.

Cal State campuses are required to accept all eligible freshmen in their local service areas, which meant Cal State L.A. had to cut community college transfers by about 25%, Mahoney said.

The hope, she said, is that the proposed changes would help the campus balance out the numbers and bring in more transfer students.

“We have a deeply committed community in which faculty have spent decades devoted to helping students succeed — and whenever you’re faced with having to make a change in admissions criteria, it’s extremely painful,” Mahoney said.

Local eligible students who fail to win admission to Cal State L.A. or other Cal State campuses that are full will be automatically offered admission to another campus beginning this fall for the first time, after Cal State trustees approved the policy last year in response to a directive from the state Legislature.

A crowd of students and faculty members attended last week’s event, one of three planned public hearings. The comments stretched over about four hours, until the building closed at 10 p.m.

Many students and alumni emphasized the same point: If the university had closed its doors to them when they applied, they wouldn’t have been able to pull themselves out of poverty.

Roxana Preciado teared up as she told campus officials about her time at Cal State L.A., when she would wake up at 5:30 a.m. for her first job, scrubbing toilets, and sneak food from her second job at a restaurant, all while juggling classes she attended after taking two buses and a train to get to school.

She graduated with a degree in psychology and is now finishing her master’s in family counseling and marriage and family therapy, she said. Her three siblings still struggle financially, but her degree has been her ticket to a stable life.

Antoinette Saddler, a member of the Black Student Union, pointed out the declining number of black students over the years. The proportion of black students fell from 5% in fall 2012 to 3.5% in fall 2018, according to campus data.

“You want to raise your requirements such as SAT scores, but black and brown communities — we don’t get the resources to obtain the scores you all want from us,” she said, turning to Mahoney and university President William Covino.

The growing number of eligible local freshmen is the reason for a sharp decline in black student enrollment, Mahoney said. Neighborhoods with large populations of black students live outside the local service area mapped out decades ago by the state Legislature.

Although the proportions of black, white and Asian students have declined, Latinos made up 53.8% of the population in fall 2012 and grew to 60.9% in fall 2017, according to campus data.

The proposal also would reduce the number of feeder community colleges whose students are given preferential treatment when they apply to Cal State L.A., said Enrique Ochoa, a Cal State L.A. history and Latin American studies professor. Students from campuses including Pierce, Los Angeles Valley, Los Angeles Mission and Los Angeles Harbor colleges would no longer get preference, he said.

Students walk on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

Systemwide, Cal State is trying to shorten the time students take to graduate. Many of the proposed changes share this goal, said Danielle Mayen, a Cal State L.A. student who works in the office of admissions and recruitment. But this push, she said, comes at the expense of students facing the biggest socioeconomic hurdles.

“It’s unrealistic to ask someone who works three jobs and has family to support to graduate in four years,” Mayen said.

Walter Rodriguez, a veteran, said he enrolled at Cal State L.A. after the failure of the business he started when he came back from Iraq. His son, who suffered because of Rodriguez’s post-traumatic stress disorder, did not get in, he said at the hearing.

“I’m proud to say I’m going to graduate this year, but the sad part is my son’s not going to be able to get in here even though what he had to deal with was not his fault.”

Rodriguez said students like his son who are affected by circumstances beyond their control will be left with few options to change their circumstances if the school proposal is approved.

“College was a way out,” Rodriguez said. “It’s one of the only doors they have to get out.”

Cal State L.A. plans to take public comment until Wednesday and make a decision on the proposal before publishing admissions criteria June 1.

Mayen and other opponents say they’re asking for a one-year delay so the campus can get more feedback and look for solutions to ease the overwhelming demand without increasing admissions requirements.

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