By Jeffrey Selingo
A University of California program that automatically admits the top 4 percent of every high-school graduating class in the state has helped Hispanic students and applicants from rural schools more than black students in its first two years, according to an analysis that will be reviewed by the university system’s Board of Regents this week.
The 4-percent plan, first used to admit freshmen last fall, was one of several strategies adopted by the nine-campus system to increase the enrollment of minority students in the wake of a statewide ban on affirmative action approved by voters in 1996.
Florida and Texashave also enacted so-called class-rank plans to bolster racial diversity, although Florida admits the top 20 percent, and Texas the top 10 percent. The policies take advantage of some high schools’ being predominantly black or Hispanic.
In California, however, the results seem to indicate that the state’s high schools may be less segregated than first thought. In fact, California’s program has so far most enhanced the geographic diversity of the university system, providing the biggest payoff to students from rural high schools. Of the 10,908 students automatically admitted under the plan this year, for instance, 14 percent came from rural schools, compared with only 6.4 per-cent of the 50,000 students in the traditional statewide applicant pool based on grades and test scores. A similar gap existed among rural applicants in the two pools last year as well.
All groups except black and American Indian students received some boost from the 4-percent plan this year, with Hispanic students benefiting the most. For example, Hispanic students made up 17.3 percent of those applicants guaranteed admission, compared with only 15.7 percent of the traditional pool. The edge provided to white students by the 4-percent plan was much smaller, 38 percent to 37.6 percent.
Black students and those from urban schools did not fare as well. For instance, black students accounted for 2.8 percent of those automatically admitted, compared with 4.7 percent of the overall statewide pool. Students from urban schools made up 34 percent of those guaranteed admission, compared with 36 percent of students who applied through the regular process.
University officials emphasized on Monday that the program was not put in place specifically to increase the number of minority students, but rather to serve as another path for admission to the University of California.
“What it does is give UC a presence at nearly every high school in the state,” said Hanan Eifenman, a spokesman for the system. “In our out-of-the-way schools or in our under-funded schools, students often feel that higher education is out of reach. This gets them to think about UC as a real option.”
The program seems to be growing more popular as well. The number of applicants this year rose 20 percent over last year. The students made eligible through the 4-percent program must still apply to the university system; the plan does not guarantee them admission to a specific campus or academic program.
Such restrictions had worried critics of the class-rank plan who feared that it would place the newly eligible students at the system’s less-prestigious campuses, such as Riversideor Santa Cruz. Last year, both campuses admitted all the 4-percent students who submitted an application on time. By comparison, Berkeleyadmitted nearly 74 percent, and the Los Angeles campus about 61 percent.
Another concern about the 4-percent plan was that highly ranked students from weak high schools would diminish the quality of the university. The analysis found that more than three-quarters of the students guaranteed admissions had high-school grade-point averages above 4.0.