The University of California Board of Regents voted overwhelmingly this week to raise the grade point average requirement for incoming freshmen from 2.8 to 3.0 beginning in 2007.
No one present at the regents’ meeting—either supporters or detractors—expressed the opinion that the decision had anything to do with raising the academic standards in the UC system.
Instead, while supporters said the grade point increase was necessary because of state budgetary constraints and to bring the UC system into line with California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, detractors called it a continuation of UC’s ongoing diversity wars which would result in a disproportionate loss of new African-American and Latino students.
In a statement issued by the university system following the vote, UC Academic Council Chair George Blumenthal said that “our faculty worked in a very committed fashion to develop a plan that would emphasize academic achievement in high school, have the least negative impact on any one demographic group, and provide adequate notice of the changes to students.”
The UC system-wide Academic Council is the administrative arm of the Academic Senate, which recommended the freshmen eligibility changes to the regents.
After the regents voted 14-6 for the increase, a crowd of some 25 to 30 student protesters stood up from their seats in the auditorium of UC San Francisco-Laurel Heights, chanting “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white” and “Is diversity what you fear? We know you don’t want us here.”
California’s higher education Master Plan, adopted in 1960, sets a target for UC eligibility of 12.5 percent of all California public high school graduates. But when the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) found last spring that more than 14 percent of the 2003 high school graduating class were UC eligible under the existing standards, the regents moved forward to modify those standards. Modifications adopted by the regents at their meeting last July are expected to cut between 4,600 to 4,900 high school students statewide out of UC eligibility by the fall of 2005. This week’s grade point average increase is expected to cut off between 700 and 750 more.
Hardest hit are expected to be African-American students, who are projected to drop from 3.1 percent of UC eligible high school seniors in 2003 to 2.7 percent in 2007 under the guidelines adopted in July and this week. Latino student eligibility would drop from 15.5 percent to 15.1 percent, while Asian student totals would rise from 31.4 percent to 32.1 percent and white student totals would rise from 47.7 percent to 47.9 percent. The totals are contingent on each ethnic group retaining the same test scores in 2007 that it had in 2003.
Several of the regents appeared to be swayed by the presentation of UC President Robert C. Dynes, who emphasized that his office would continue to monitor UC eligibility statistics. If the percentage of eligible high school seniors dropped to 12.5 percent before the new GPA guidelines went into effect for 2007, the regents could quickly lower the GPA again at its discretion, he said.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, an ex officio member of the board, called the data on which the board made its decision “flawed.”
“At the moment that we need to put more and more students into the UC system, we’re cutting back,” Bustamante said. “No one said that they were not eligible, because they are. No one said that they couldn’t succeed, because they can succeed. And yet, we’re going to take 5,000 to 6,000 students and take them out of the system. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Bustamante said that the only thing that pleased him about the vote was that it only passed 14-6. “Usually I can only get two to four votes for my views on these types of issues,” he said.
The anguish over the issue was summed up by regent Judith Hopkinson. While calling the eligibility increase “an emotional issue for everybody,” and noting that “the lack of diversity is the biggest single failing we have,” she said that “to think we’re going to get financial support from the state over 12.5 percent [of California high school seniors] is irresponsible.”
Hopkinson said, “The state is putting UC in financial jeopardy because of the lack of fiscal support. This is a very dangerous place for us to be.”
She said that the regents “ought to be consistent” in their treatment of the higher education Master Plan, noting that “we set aside the Master Plan [during the state budget deliberations] to accommodate the governor in his Higher Education Compact.”
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, ex officio member, pointed out that because of the error rate in the CPEC statistics, “we could already be at the 12.5 percent mark.” Nuñez offered a substitute motion—easily defeated—to postpone the GPA increase until an evaluation of the existing changes could be made following the 2005-06 school year.
UC staff members said that because the regents did not want to pass any eligibility changes that would affect students currently in high school, changes made following the 2005-06 school year would not be able to go into effect until late in the decade.
Nuñez, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, student regent Jodi Anderson, and regents Odessa Johnson and Frederick Ruiz joined Bustamante in voting against the GPA-raising proposal. Regent Ward Connerly, who is often the flashpoint of these discussions, was absent from the meeting when the discussion and vote took place. A representative in his Sacramento office said that Connerly had to attend another appointment during the time of the vote.
A series of largely student speakers blasted the proposal in one-minute public presentations to the regents before the vote. One student noted that “the GPA increase is part of an alarming trend on UC campuses that includes the raising of student fees.”
Charles Schwartz, a retired member of the UC Berkeley faculty, said that there were “sizable errors” in the CPEC eligibility study, and called the budget issue a “phony argument.” A crowd of some 50 to 75 spectators offered their approval or disapproval during the meeting, hissing or snapping their fingers in derision or breaking into applause at different points.