Wednesday, July 18

Keshav Tadimeti: Rest of system needs to learn from UC Irvine admissions debacle

The University of California Irvine’s admission debacle  shows the volatility of the UC’s admission predictions and its troubling willingness to pull the rug from underneath students. (Creative commons photo by Common Good via Wikimedia Commons)

The University of California Irvine’s admission debacle shows the volatility of the UC’s admission predictions and its troubling willingness to pull the rug from underneath students. (Creative commons photo by Common Good via Wikimedia Commons)

United Airlines can rest easy: The University of California, Irvine has officially stolen the title of “organization most likely to kick people off its premises because of overbooked seating.”

Two weeks ago, UCI withdrew admission for nearly 500 students for poor senior-year grades or not sending in their high school transcripts on time, according to a notice it sent to students two months before the start of the fall 2017 quarter. The university initially defended its decision, claiming it instated more stringent admission standards because it underestimated – by a whopping 850 students, mind you – the number of applicants who would accept its admission offers.

Many students appealing the decision, however, argue their high school transcripts were sent in on time, which seems true given more than half the number of students appealing for transcript-related reasons had their appeals heard and were readmitted into the university. That’s concerning, to say the least.

The university has been under fire ever since from students, legislators and even its own Associated Student Union. In response, UCI’s Chancellor announced last week the university would reverse the admission withdrawal for all except those whose transcripts clearly indicate they did not meet its academic standards.

While the chancellor’s decision was well overdue, the admissions debacle is hardly over. UCI’s blunder demonstrates the troubling capability of UC campuses’ admission offices to pull the rug from underneath students to cover up their own mistakes – not to mention the apparent hit-or-miss accuracy of these office’s admission predictions. With the ever-growing number of applicants vying for admission into UC schools, it’s unlikely the home of the Anteaters will be the last campus overbooking seats and scrambling at the last minute.

As such, the UC needs to require its admission offices establish safeguards to prevent similar admission mishaps from occurring, such as leveraging acceptance waitlists to better accommodate student demand for its campuses. UCI already enlisted an internal auditor to review its admissions process, and other campuses should follow suit to ensure those who accept admissions offers to UC schools are indeed guaranteed spots.

UCI’s gaffe is more than just a miscalculation of epic proportions. It was the making of what could have been, had its chancellor not righted the ship, perhaps the single biggest blindsiding of students ever committed by a UC.

There’s of course nothing wrong with universities withdrawing acceptances after would-be students fail to meet the schools’ requirements, such as by underperforming in their senior year of high schools or engaging in behavior that is contrary to the schools’ values. For example, UCLA revoked admission for seven students this year and UC Davis averaged about 150 withdrawals over the past two years for things like unsatisfactory senior year grades.

Where UCI botched the process, however, was in leveraging its admission policies to also kick out any student whose transcript supposedly wasn’t turned in on time. Yet one day before UCI’s chancellor put out his statement, 112 of the 214 students who appealed the university’s withdrawal of their admission for transcript-related reasons had their admissions reinstated.

In other words, the university arbitrarily revoked admission and jeopardized the careers of more than 100 students because they hadn’t turned in their paperwork on time, when in reality many of them did.

And there are worrisome ramifications of this. Not only did the debacle highlight the volatility of the admission process at UC campuses – 850 additional students accepting admission went unanticipated and sent the UCI admission system reeling – but it also foreshadows the woes these campuses will face in following years due to rising demand for a UC education and increased admittance at these campuses.

For reference, the percentage of California freshmen who accepted admission into UCI increased from 24.6 percent last year to 26.4 percent this year, according to the university’s associate vice chancellor of enrollment services – a costly 2 percentage points. Should universities like UCLA, which received more than 102,000 applications this year, make a similar miscalculation, they would hardly be able to admit 800 more students because of limited campus space.

It’s therefore clear the UC needs to review its campuses’ admission process and create safeguards to ensure the UCI fiasco doesn’t repeat. Auditing the admission process would be the first step to identifying any oversights in the campuses’ offices, and UC administrators need to act accordingly to guarantee the admission process can adequately meet the growing demand for the universities.

One way of doing this could be to leverage more waitlist positions to gauge student demand for admission and help campuses better react to larger-than-expected incoming classes.

Certainly, UCI’s summer excitement might seem a one-off case of an admissions process gone wrong, but other UC campuses can’t afford to address these sorts of mishaps after the fact. UCI still has a great deal of work to do before it can assure future applicants won’t have their admissions revoked out of the blue. The other campuses would do well to make sure they don’t have to go through similar damage control in the future.

After all, United Airlines inspired the ire of the entire nation after kicking just one person off an aircraft. Kicking out hundreds of students because of overbooking probably isn’t the soundest of public relations strategies.

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Opinion editor

Tadimeti is the Daily Bruin's Opinion editor. He was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2016-2017 school year. He tends to write about issues pertaining to the student body, the undergraduate student government and the administration, and blogs occasionally about computer science.

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