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UC student leaders propose new admissions criterion

By Kristen Taketa

Oct. 22, 2013 1:04 a.m.

University of California student leaders are proposing a new admissions criterion that would give preference to applicants from low-income schools that have special partnerships with UC campuses.

Under the criterion, UC campuses would look at whether an applicant comes from a Title I high school – a school that serves a significant number of low-income students – or a community college with low transfer rates that has a partnership with a UC campus. The partnerships would involve academic preparation and outreach programs that the UC would create for these schools. .

Students proposing the new factor, including UC student regent Cinthia Flores and Undergraduate Students Association Council External Vice President Maryssa Hall, say it would reinforce what they believe is the UC’s responsibility to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds make it to college.

They also say it will help the UC’s focus on recruiting in-state students instead of admitting out-of-state and international students to increase revenue, a strategy the UC has utilized in the past few years since nonresidents are required to pay more in tuition.

“(The factor) will inform the reader that this (applicant) is someone who will offer an enhancement to this diversity,” said Flores, who is developing the proposed criterion.“For someone to be successful from a Title I school or from a low-transfer community college, that demonstrates specific kinds of skills that I think the UC would benefit from.”

The proposed factor is one component of a larger plan being developed by UC student leaders, including Flores and members of the UC Student Association.

They are asking that UC President Janet Napolitano spend a $10 million University surplus on recruitment, outreach and retention programs across the UC. The programs are intended to help enroll more racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse students.

Flores said she has sent a letter to Napolitano about the plan and that she is working with Aimée Dorr, UC provost, on developing the program.

Currently, UC campuses consider 14 factors when deciding whether to admit a student for an incoming class. The factors include an applicant’s GPA, ACT or SAT test scores, leadership experiences, academic projects and the location of the applicant’s high school. The UC student leaders are proposing that a 15th factor be added.

George Johnson, chair of the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools – a committee of UC faculty that recommends admissions criteria to the UC Academic Senate – said some of the existing admissions factors may already serve the purpose that the proposed factor aims to address.

For instance, one of the existing factors involves the applicant’s academic performance in light of “life experiences and special circumstances,” which include whether the applicant comes from a low-income family. This would include either a first-generation college student or an applicant who comes from a disadvantaged background. Johnson said such factors would possibly overlap with the benefits of considering whether a student comes from a Title I school, as student leaders are proposing.

When reviewing an application, admissions officials receive a “read sheet” that provides information about the applicant’s high school, including the school’s average SAT scores and whether the school has a high proportion of free and reduced lunch recipients.

Since a majority of state schools already receive Title I funding, a school’s Title I status might also not be a very distinguishing factor in finding schools to partner with, Johnson said. In the 2010-11 year, about 60 percent of public schools in California received Title I funding, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

He added that such a factor might lead application readers to simply favor Title I schools that happen to be nearer to UC campuses, since those schools would be more likely to have partnerships with UC campuses than those who are farther away.

The addition of the 15th factor, however, could help stress the importance of having such partnerships with high schools, said William Jacob, chair of the UC Academic Senate and member of the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools.

Jacob said that UC partnership programs with high schools sprung up particularly in the late 1990s – a few years after Proposition 209 was implemented, banning the consideration of race at state public colleges. They focused on schools with low academic performance and included counseling programs and summer academies, among other things.

Jacob added that these high school partnership programs tend to lead to increased participation in “A-G” courses – basic classes required for admission to the UC – and increased numbers of applications to the UC.

After the recent financial crisis, such programs lost funding and fell into a decline, Jacob added. Adding the 15th factor would help stress the importance of funding these programs, he said.

The Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools will review the proposal and discuss if it should be adopted or if existing admissions criteria should be revised, Jacob said.

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Kristen Taketa
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