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Recent report details growing barriers to entry for UCs, CSUs

(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)

By Kimia Rategh and Lisa Huiqin Wang

Jan. 27, 2022 1:37 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 31 at 1:28 a.m.

Incoming University of California and California State University students will continue to see competitive admissions environments, according to a report.

The Campaign for College Opportunity, a statewide policy advocacy research organization, published a report called “Shut Out” in December detailing the competitive admissions rates faced by California high school students. The report notes eligible students see themselves barred from higher education because of insufficient state funding.

According to the report, the proportion of California high school students who are completing UC and CSU admissions requirements has increased from 33% to 50% since 2007. There has also been an overall increase in the average admitted student’s GPA to over 4.0 at almost all the UC campuses, according to the report.

In particular, Black and Latino students are experiencing the shutout effect the most, according to the report.

The report states UC populations do not accurately reflect the ratio of high school graduates by race. While 53% of high school graduates identify as Latino, at almost all the UC campuses, Latino students barely make up 30% of the student population. Similarly, 5.3% of high school graduates identify as Black and yet only about 3% to 4% of most UCs’ student populations are made up of Black students.

Audrey Dow, the senior vice president of Campaign for College Opportunity, said the campaign has worked to ensure racial and ethnic diversity on all the campuses in completion.

“When you look across all campuses, especially at Berkeley, Los Angeles and even San Diego,” Dow said, “You don’t see Latinx or Black students represented proportionally to the general demographic population that they represent in California.”

Dow said that Los Angeles, as an epicenter for Latino culture for the state, should consider providing local admission guarantees to UCLA. She said that UCLA needs to remember the regions and neighborhoods that it serves.

Another point the report covers is the value of a bachelor’s degree.

The report discussed how the value of a bachelor’s degree in California is increasing, yielding great benefits for college-educated populations. These benefits range from higher annual wages to a greater likelihood of owning a house.

According to a 2020 study called the Hamilton Project referenced by the report, the median annual income for white, college-educated workers is about $78,421, whereas for high school graduates the median income remains at about $43,178. The report states that these numbers only decrease when looking at underrepresented communities, such as Black and Latino communities.

When the pandemic first hit, Californians with a high school diploma or less made up more than 80% of initial claims regarding unemployment, the report also noted. Conversely, college-educated workers were more often in positions allowing them to work from home, according to the report.

According to the report’s executive summary, while the appeal for pursuing higher education continues to increase, accessibility remains considerably low as the admissions process for UCs and CSUs has taken a new, more competitive direction.

Kainath Kamil, a first-year psychobiology student, said that the hardest part of the college application process was figuring out what to include in her essays. Kamil said she found herself unsure of what activities to prioritize and tried to cater to the characteristics and activities each school valued.

To accommodate the ambiguity in the admissions process, Kamil said that her school provided a college admissions seminar class to guide students through essay writing and the admissions process as a whole. Despite this added guidance, Kamil said she was still uncertain as to what she should highlight in her application, leaving many of her questions unanswered.

Kamil also said these resources were not a baseline for all high school seniors, which makes the admissions process even more difficult.

“The school that I went to in high school came from a privileged area and everything was college-centered,” Kamil said. “We talked about colleges, people (were) wearing college shirts everywhere, took a lot of AP classes.”

Accessibility is one of the topics that concerns the UC Student Association. In the past, the UCSA has worked on securing the Cal Grant Reform Act and proposing student equity campaigns.

Joshua Lewis, the UC Student Association chair and a fourth-year political science and government student at UC Berkeley, said that a program to counter this issue is Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships, a portfolio of 13 educational programs that aim to reduce disparities in college access from pre-K to high school students.

Lewis said SAPEP received a large influx of state funding because of student activism.

“A tangible project outcome is to improve the underrepresented minorities’ ability to access pre-application assistance and increase retention for degree attainment at universities,” Lewis said.

Lewis also commented that the UC will be facing this trade-off of enrollment – to increase enrollment but maintain the quality of education.

The report recommends revising the eligibility requirements under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, ensuring students from the top 15% of high school graduates will be eligible for admission to the UC; for the CSU, top 40%.

Additionally, the report calls for the formation of a higher education coordinating body that would be in charge of working to ensure 60% of Californians earn a degree or certificate of high value.

“​​It’s an ongoing fight. It’s hard to say the deliverables are certain because I don’t think that we’d ever get to a point where we’re just happy with it,” Lewis said. “So there’s no real endpoint that I can point to as when we’d be happy, but those are some of the things that we’ve done and (are) continuing to do that have been really productive for the state.”

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Kimia Rategh
Wang is a Science and Health and National News and Higher Education news contributor. She previously was director of recruitment at Outreach. She is a second-year student at UCLA majoring in Computational Systems Biology and minoring in mathematics.
Wang is a Science and Health and National News and Higher Education news contributor. She previously was director of recruitment at Outreach. She is a second-year student at UCLA majoring in Computational Systems Biology and minoring in mathematics.
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