BERKELEY — A record number of underrepresented minorities applied to the University of California in the first year of a new program guaranteeing a spot to top-performing high school students.
UC officials said Tuesday they don’t have enough information to declare a definite correlation, but they’re happy with the numbers, which come three years after the school dropped affirmative action.
“This is quite exciting for the university,” said Dennis Galligani, associate vice president for student academic affairs.
Overall, applications from California students for freshman admission increased from 54,146 to 58,424, an increase of 4,278 students, or 7.9 percent.
That is more than double last year’s 2.5 percent increase in applications and may be due to a combination of the new program guaranteeing eligibility to students in the top 4 percent of their class as well as expanded state financial aid, Galligani said. Applications from black students went up 11.4 percent, from 2,174 to 2,421, and applications from Hispanic students increased 14.5 percent, from 7,814 to 8,950 students.
About 80 percent of students eligible under the 4 percent plan applied. “We really touched a chord,” said Galligani, who had hoped for a two-thirds application rate.
Under the 4 percent plan, which took effect for 2001 freshman, students qualify based on UC-required courses; schools send the names in to UC. This year 84 percent of public high schools complied, 134 didn’t, but UC granted an extension.
Previous research indicated that two-thirds of the estimated 10,200 students in the 4 percent pool were already eligible for UC. Officials are still analyzing the real-life pool. The 4 percent plan guarantees eligibility, not admission, but it is UC’s policy to find a place somewhere on one of its eight undergraduate campuses for all eligible students.
The bumper crop of applications was hailed by Regent Ward Connerly, who led the fight against taking race into consideration, as proof that “if UC will simply go out and make these students aware of the opportunities that are available, they will apply. The naysayers just never were willing to give it a chance and they’ve been proven wrong.”
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, an ex-officio regent, noted that more applications may not translate into more admissions.
Last year, the number of underrepresented minority students – blacks, Hispanics and American Indians – admitted as freshmen on University of California campuses surpassed, for the first time, the number from 1997, the last year of affirmative action admissions. But some minority students decided not to enroll.
“We’ve been down this road before. This is an old song and an old dance,” Bustamante said in a statement. “Somewhere between applications and actual enrollment, something tragic happens – we aren’t competing with other top schools in the nation.”
Bustamante and Regent William Bagley have talked about asking the board to repeal its affirmative action vote. That wouldn’t bring back the old system because of Proposition 209, the state anti-affirmative action ballot measure passed in 1996. Proponents argue it would reassure students who might not feel welcome at UC and extricate the university from a political debate.
The political makeup of the board has changed since the 1995 vote and Bagley said he may bring repeal to the board in May.
Connerly said the new application numbers undercut that effort.
“We have a record number of ’underrepresented minorities’ seeking admission to the University of California and you would have to be living on another planet not to recognize that this is an indication of their interest in attending UC,” he said.
Bagley said he’s glad outreach programs are working, but noted that even with the increase, black applications are low, constituting about 4 percent of applications. UC figures show blacks comprise 7 percent of California high school graduates.
“This university has a reputation nationwide for having started this divisive movement and all we’re trying to do is repair the reputation of the university. Get us out of the vortex,” he said.
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