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Holistic approach proposed to increase diversity

By Iris Chen

April 13, 2010 9:47 p.m.

Numerous students from underprivileged backgrounds are rejected every year when they fail to meet the amount of points necessary for admission into several University of California schools.

To ensure greater diversity, UC President Mark Yudof proposed a more holistic approach to the admissions process, one that weighs other factors, such as family background, more than test scores and grades, for all UC campuses.

Currently, UCLA and UC Berkeley are the only UC schools in which applications are read in their entirety by an admissions officer, while UC Davis and UC San Diego assign specific points to each criterion in a process called a point system.

The point system awards a certain amount of points for criteria such as SAT scores and GPA, and students are admitted based on the amount of total points they incur.

“(Yudof) believes that holistic review allows for more flexibility … (and) allows (for the admissions) to do a more in-depth job in assessing the whole student in his or her potential for success,” said Ricardo Vazquez, UC Office of the President spokesman.

This change in the admissions procedure was suggested at a UC Board of Regents meeting on March 24 that discussed the recent racial tensions at several UC campuses.

It included the regents, chancellors from campuses including Davis, San Diego and Irvine, a dean from the Berkeley School of Law, and students.

“When UCLA implemented holistic review, the campus saw an increase in the numbers of African-Americans admitted,” Vazquez said.

UCLA began considering holistic review in 2006, when very few African-American students were admitted into the university.

“(The proposal), together with very active recruiting and non-university scholarship aid, have clearly helped UCLA recover from the extraordinary drop in African-American students admitted to UCLA several years ago,” said Gary Orfield, professor of education, law, political science and urban planning.

After implementing holistic review for the fall 2007 applicants, UCLA saw a 10 percent increase in underrepresented student group admits, consisting of American Indian, African-American and Chicano/Latino students attending the university, according to the UC Office of the President Web site.

Yet Ivan Evans, professor of sociology at UCSD, does not consider holistic review a direct catalyst for an increase in the presence of underrepresented minorities in the UC system.

Evans said holistic review at UCSD may not be as effective as it has been for UCLA and UC Berkeley, since there remains no set way applications can be read in different ways.

“(The point system has not) yielded … culturally sensitive young citizens who embrace diversity and difference on and off campus,” Evans said.

Wilfred Chang, a first-year mathematics/economics student, agrees with Yudof’s proposal.

Chang said one student’s experience could have affected his grades more so than that of another student, and capping the amount of points given to him does not account for the full context of the student’s background.

The failure to consider all aspects of a student unseen in test scores is one of the fundamental concerns for the point system some UC campuses currently apply to their admissions process.

“A handful of numbers cannot really describe a person, and test scores don’t measure such vital characteristics as determination, creativity (and) capacity to work and learn effectively with other students, maturity, etc., all of which can be very important,” Orfield said.

Yet, others are concerned about those who may suffer due to a change in the importance of test scores.

James Chen, a first-year physiological science student, said that it may be unfair to students from richer neighborhoods who may not have the advantage of certain life experiences that can contribute to a more well-rounded application.

While Jack Chan, a first-year mechanical engineering student, disagrees with the point system UC San Diego currently follows, he does not believe the holistic approach allows for a more comprehensive outlook of an applicant.

“This is not the fairest method because there are so many factors in a (student’s) life, more than what he can put into an application, that can affect the overall scale that a college arbitrarily judges on,” Chan said.

Incommensurability creates another issue.

“One of the difficulties is that it is hard to compare applications,” said James Catterall, professor of education.

Aside from implementing the holistic approach at all UC campuses, Yudof also suggested more funding for scholarships for underrepresented minorities.

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