Friday, February 06, 2009

UC regents OK admissions overhaul

Patricia Yollin | SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2009

A lot more young people will have a shot at getting into the University of California under new eligibility rules, approved by the UC Board of Regents today, that represent the most sweeping changes in admission standards in almost 50 years.

"The bottom line is that it will be more diverse and more fair," said UC President Mark Yudof.

The board approved these changes today:

-- SAT subject tests will no longer be necessary.

-- The pool of applicants who will be considered will widen, but the number guaranteed entry into one of the university's nine undergraduate campuses will shrink.

-- The top 9 percent of high school graduates statewide will be ensured entry, compared with 12.5 percent previously, as well as those in the top 9 percent of their graduating class - up from 4 percent in the past.

Taken together, the two groups will constitute 10.1 percent of California's graduating class, based on projections by the university.

The revised requirements will affect the freshman class of 2012.

The changes will allow students to be considered - and granted a full review of their application - who complete by the end of junior year at least 11 of 15 college prep courses required by UC, achieve a weighted 3.0 grade-point average, and take either the ACT with Writing or SAT Reasoning Examination.

UC was the only public education system in the country that made students take two SAT subject tests. The result: 22,000 high school graduates in California were disqualified in 2007 from applying to the university who otherwise would have been eligible.

Members of the UC Academic Senate, who spent almost four years putting together the eligibility proposal, based this estimate on 2007 data from the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

That data also made them conclude that 21.7 percent of high school graduates in the state would have been entitled to a comprehensive review of their applications in 2007, compared with the 13.4 percent who were actually eligible for UC in that period.

On Wednesday, the issue of eligibility was thoroughly discussed at the regents' meeting before the Committee on Educational Policy approved the changes.

"This proposal will give us a chance to look at those (kinds of) lost students," said Regent Eddie Island . "They might not get in, but we'll look at them as individuals."

The promise of UC admission to the top 12.5 percent of graduates goes back to the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. A few regents worried about deviating from such a venerable road map.

"I feel like I got out my lantern like Diogenes looking for the master plan," Yudof said.

He emphasized that he had talked to legislators, California State University chief Charles Reed and community college leaders.

"They were all simpatico with this," Yudof said.

To avoid a perception that the university was lowering its standards, Yudof had asked the creators of the proposal to raise the required GPA to a weighted 3.0 instead of an unweighted 2.8. That change was reflected in the plan the regents' committee voted for on Wednesday.

Although eligibility changes had been discussed in four earlier regents' meetings, there was still much confusion.

"Now I can see why I was not UC eligible," said Regent Norman Pattiz. "How are we going to get this in a little pamphlet and hand it to parents to see what it takes?"

Some people saw the shift - endorsed by the University of California Student Association - as a way to get around Proposition 209, which was approved by voters in 1996 and ended race- and gender-based anti-discrimination programs in state, county and city hiring, contracting and school admissions.

Yudof said he supported affirmative action but would obey Prop. 209 because it was the law of the land. He was sure the new rules would increase diversity, but said it was too early to know the specific impact.

"We want to change the behavior of applicants and admissions officers," he said.

And by looking at the "whole file," as he put it, colleges can find out if a student did volunteer work or overcame a hardship or wrote the Great American Novel or climbed Mount Everest.

Although the changes dominated the meeting Wednesday, few members of the public addressed them. Most, instead, were angry about having to contribute to their retirement fund - a change approved by the regents today - without being represented on the pension board.

"We won't pay without a say," they chanted.

One protester was Ellie Corley, 72, an administrative assistant in the UC controller's office who has worked at the university for 33 years and makes $35,000 a year.

She got laid off in January and will leave in March.

"The university talks about equity and inclusion," Corley said. "I've never seen it."

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