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Findings by law professor suggest that UCLA Admissions may be violating Prop 209

Holistic Admissions at UCLA

  • Adopted by UCLA in 2006
  • Takes into account 14 different categories of student attributes "“ both academic and socioeconomic
  • Two reviewers review each student's application and assign it a holistic number between one and five, one being the highest
  • If reviewers feel there is something outside of the student's application that may affect the admissions decision, they may put the student into "Supplemental Review"

SOURCE: UCLA Admissions.
Compiled by Alexia Boyarsky, Bruin staff.

By Alexia Boyarsky

Oct. 23, 2012 1:21 a.m.

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

UCLA Undergraduate Admissions could be violating Proposition 209, a California law that prohibits state institutions from taking race into account during the admissions or hiring process, according to a report by a UCLA law professor.

Richard Sander, who studies affirmative action policy, wrote a report that suggests race may factor into the admission of students who are on the line between acceptance and rejection. See the bottom of the article for a copy of the report.

The report is related to a book that Sander co-authored, named “Mismatch,” that garnered media attention following its publication on Oct. 9.

The book and report provide evidence supporting Sander’s claims that the UCLA admissions process violates Proposition 209, which passed in 1996 and made it illegal for California universities to take race into account during the admissions process as a way to ensure that admissions focused on academics and attributes that inherently affect a person’s education, such as socioeconomic status.

Officials from UCLA Admissions, however, maintain that the university is acting in accordance with the proposition and does not take race into account in the process, said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. Sander’s full report was not publicly available and admissions officials had not seen it as of press deadline.

Currently, admissions at UCLA is based on a “holistic” process, which was adopted in 2006. The process takes into account 14 different categories of attributes for every student, including non-academic categories like whether an applicant’s parents went to college, family income and whether they had “difficult personal or family situations.”

Each applicant is assigned a single number between one and five based on the categories, with a score of one being the highest. This number is meant to be representative of a student’s entire application.

The race of an applicant, while noted in the application, is never revealed to the reviewers or the admissions board, Copeland-Morgan said.

But if reviewers think there is something outside of the regular holistic review process that could be helpful in reaching a decision, they may place the student into a process known as “Supplemental Review.”

“(Supplemental Review) is an opportunity for our reviewers to ask for additional information when they see a highly talented student who has faced unusual adversity and believe that may have some bearing on their admissions potential,” Copeland-Morgan said.

It is through the process of Supplemental Review that Sander said the admissions process may be letting race play a role.

For his report, Sander analyzed six years of admissions data, obtained from UCLA through a public records request, that was grouped into pre-holistic and post-holistic process numbers. The data was comprised of one group of admissions numbers between 2004 and 2006 before the holistic process was implemented, and another group of numbers between 2007 and 2009, Sander said.

According to Sander’s analysis, there is a much higher percentage of black and Hispanic students who are offered admissions than Caucasian and Asian students, among students who are assigned the same “mid-range” holistic score.

“What seems to be happening is that there is discrimination after the holistic scores are generated,” Sander said. “(Admissions officials) seem to be making discriminatory decisions with lots of black and Hispanic students with poor holistic scores being admitted.”

Data from a report published by UCLA sociology Professor Robert Mare in May also helps support this finding. The university commissioned Mare to do an independent review of the holistic admissions process.

Mare’s study reports that the initial holistic review process ““ which weighs the different categories and assigns a rank to a student ““ is race-neutral and accurately generates holistic scores for students. Mare acknowledges, however, that he also found some discrepancies in the admission process similar to those in Sander’s report.

UCLA has since endorsed Mare’s study, citing it as an example of how the holistic process works effectively and is race-neutral.

Mare’s statistical analysis shows that in each of the two years he examined ““ 2007 and 2008 ““ the university admitted more than 100 black students who would not have been admitted based on the holistic admissions process alone.

This is around one third of the total number of admitted black students, which was around 350 students in 2007 and 2008, but is relatively minor compared to the more than 10,000 overall admitted students each year, Mare said.

“There are some extra African-American students on campus that we can’t account for,” Mare said. “But they are a miniscule proportion of the overall admitted class.”

Similar to Sander’s findings, this discrepancy may also be explained by the system of Supplemental Review.

While conducting his review, Mare said he could not fully explain the criteria admissions reviewers used to choose what students should go into Supplemental Review, even after data analysis and interviews with admissions officers.

Copeland-Morgan said a likely explanation for why more black and Latino students are sent to Supplemental Review lies inherently within the social and economic difficulties that many of those applicants face.

“It is reasonable that we will see more students from African-American and Latino backgrounds going into the supplemental review process because they are more likely nationally and on the state level to face these kinds of difficulties at home and to have faced environments that would require further review,” she said.

Sander said this reasoning may account for some of the bias given toward black and Hispanic students, but does not explain why his data also shows that UCLA Admissions is admitting more black than Hispanic students.

“There is no evidence that black students would have (faced) more challenges than Hispanic students,” he said.

“You can’t point to any systematic characteristic that would lead to blacks being more substantially favored than Hispanics.”

There is no clear answer as to what repercussions could occur if the university is found to be in violation of the law.

“There is no automatic process by which potential (proposition) violations are investigated,” said Kevin Reed, UCLA vice chancellor of legal affairs.

It is possible, however, for non-profit agencies or private individuals who were denied admission to the university to file a lawsuit, Sander said.

Mare said that the question of whether or not the trend of more black and Latino students getting sent to Supplemental Review is mostly a matter of perspective.

“It’s an inherently moral, political, policy kind of judgment, rather than a scientific one,” he said.

Still, Sander hopes to increase transparency in the university’s admissions system with his report, he said.

“I hope that what we see as a result (of this report) is UCLA’s chancellor and the UC president expressing concern and rethinking the holistic process as a model,” Sander said.

In addition to the actual report, all data used for Sander’s analysis will be made available to the public in the coming weeks, he said.

Read the report here or download the PDF:

Email Boyarsky at [email protected].

Correction: When this article was first posted, Sander had not yet published his report online.

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