SAN FRANCISCO — A University of California regents committee voted Wednesday to start looking at prospective students as more than the sum of their grades and transcripts, taking into account what kind of personal struggles they went through to arrive at those numbers.
The 13-2 vote by the committee of the university’s governing board of regents sends the issue to the full board Thursday, where it is expected to be approved.
The policy, known as “comprehensive review,” involves looking at grades and test scores plus such things as whether a student overcame poverty or has special talents or did well in a bad school. It has been criticized as a covert way of reviving race-based admissions, banned by state law, although supporters maintain it is race-neutral, looking at how all students, not just poor students, met challenges.
Regents added an amendment to the policy saying it would not be used to inject race into the admissions process.
Comprehensive review already is being used to admit some students to UC’s eight undergraduate campuses. But the campuses presently are restricted to admitting at least 50 percent of their students on the basis of 10 academic criteria.
Comprehensive review adds four supplemental criteria to that equation, including such things as whether the student pushed himself or overcame adversity.
Proponents say the switch, already approved by UC faculty, sends a message to California high school students that they can get into UC if they make the most of their opportunities.
“I have always felt that there has to be a better way than just looking at numbers,” said Regent Sherry Lansing.
State schools superintendent Delaine Eastin, who is also a regent, said the change helps rectify inequities in California’s public schools.
Without comprehensive review, UC could lose some potentially great students, Eastin said.
“We’ll miss Abe Lincoln if we’re not careful. We’ll certainly bypass Oprah and we’ll miss Whoopi Goldberg and we won’t bring Einstein or Edison forward,” she said. All those people, she said, “came from dysfunctional families or had serious learning disabilities.”
Critics say they’re concerned the plan would make the admissions process a little less fair.
“We’re rushing this through in order to have it in place by next year and I think that is ill-advised,” said Regent Ward Connerly, although he did vote for the switch after the amendment to keep it race-neutral was added. “I think it’s going to subject this university to an untold amount of disrespect, litigation and questions about the credibility of the process.”
Comprehensive review would not change the statewide pool of students deemed eligible for entry to one of UC’s eight undergraduate campuses. That is determined by meeting grade and test minimums or by graduating in the top 4 percent of one’s high school class.
However, it could change enrollment, especially at the top campuses of Berkeley and UCLA, because campuses would be using comprehensive review when they selected students from the pool of eligible students.
The 50 percent minimum was adopted at the same time UC dropped race from admissions in 1995. Previously, campuses had to admit at least 40 percent of students on academics alone.
Regents rescinded the 1995 vote in May. The vote was largely symbolic because of a 1996 law dismantling most state affirmative action programs, but did bring the academic minimum up for debate.
After race-blind admissions went into effect, enrollment of blacks and Hispanics tumbled. The figures have rebounded since then, but there has been a reshuffling, with more blacks and Hispanics going to lesser-known campuses such as UC-Riverside and fewer going to Berkeley and UCLA.
UC officials say the new policy isn’t backdoor affirmative action because race is taken off applications before they are reviewed and the overall pool of applicants remains unchanged. They say they do not expect the ethnic composition of freshmen classes at any of the campuses to change substantially.
Berkeley officials reviewed 1,000 admissions from this fall and found that all but 4 percent would have been admitted under comprehensive review. The losers under comprehensive review tended to be students who had good grades but hadn’t done much outside the classroom.