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Crisis Point

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Published Oct 1, 2006 12:00 AM


Admissions and African Americans

There's excitement in Westwood as a new school year begins. But there's also concern. Lots of it.

Only 2 percent of incoming freshmen at the campus in which Ralph Bunche, Jackie Robinson and Tom Bradley excelled are African American. As of last count, that number represented only 99 students out of an incoming class of more than 4,800 freshmen. It's a situation so serious that Chancellor Norm Abrams, community leaders, the faculty, campus administrators, students and alumni all call it a crisis.

So, in its ongoing effort to improve the fairness of its admissions process for all applicants, UCLA is taking action. Lots of it.

On Sept. 28, the university announced that the UCLA Academic Senate has voted to approve a holistic model for freshman admissions in which, beginning with the fall 2007 freshman class, each application will be read and considered in its entirety rather than having sections reviewed by different people. The change is the most sweeping reform since the current process, called comprehensive review, was adopted by the University of California Board of Regents five years ago.

Confronting the Crisis: A Roundtable Looks for Answers

Mandla Kayise '87, President, UCLA Black Alumni Association, President, New World Education

Thomas E. Lifka, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Student Academic Services

Keith S. Parker, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Government & Community Relations

Lawrence H. Lokman, Assistant Vice Chancellor, University Communications

Yolanda Nunn Gorman '78, M.B.A. '83, Ph.D. '93, President, UCLA Alumni Association, President, Brilliance Strategies, Inc.

Patricia O'Brien, Executive Dean, UCLA College of Letters and Science

Peter Taylor '80, Chair, African American Enrollment Task Force, Past Chair, UCLA Foundation, Managing Director, Lehman Bros., Inc.

Janina Montero, Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs

Terry Flennaugh '06, Member, African Student Union.

The faculty, which had been considering the change for the past year, decided to implement an holistic approach because they believe that the comprehensive review admissions admissions policy for freshman can be better achieved through a more individualized and qualitative assessment of each applicants entire application, noted Adrienne Lavine, outgoing chair of the Academic Senate. Holistic review is the preferred method of evaluation at Berkeley and other elite institutions, including the Ivy League.

Ensuring a fair and effective method of providing access to all underrepresented applicants is a challenge faced by state and national universities across the country, particularly at the most highly selective campuses such as UCLA, Berkeley and others. In California, voters passed Proposition 209 in 1996, eliminating affirmative action. And in the past several years, the academic landscape has changed dramatically, with an increase in the competitiveness of admissions, both in terms of astronomic growth in volume and the academic quality of applicants to UCLA. (Last year, UCLA received approximately 47,000 applications, the most of any school in the country.) Chancellor Abrams stressed that the changes at UCLA must and will comply with Proposition 209.

There are bright spots, such as UCLA's very successful community college transfer program, where African-American enrollment is increasing. Still, the drop in freshman enrollment by underrepresented minorities, particularly African Americans, strikes at the heart of the principle upon which the University of California was founded—to provide access to excellence for a student body that reflects the state's diversity. For UCLA, particularly, it threatens an impressive legacy of preparing extraordinary African-American leaders.

The university has created an African American Enrollment Task Force of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders to address the issues. It continues to seek input and counsel from legislators and community leaders. And it has established an internal working group to address the problem, in consultation with relevant faculty groups that are the primary decision-makers on admissions policy, in a rigorous review of the method by which the university evaluates applicants.

"The downturn in our African-American admissions numbers prompted us to look very closely at the process we were using in admitting students," said Chancellor Abrams, who pushed hard for the changes. "And I concluded, apart from any question of minority admissions, that a holistic approach — in which we look at the academic factors, the personal achievements and the life challenges with regard to each application in its totality — allows you to get a better sense of the individual. It seems to me that this is a very sound approach to college admissions."

"Realistically, given the eligibility realities in California and how competitive some of our students are, it's unlikely that we're going to have a significant change in the numbers," added Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janina Montero. "We have no idea, really, how things are going to play out. What we would like to see, ultimately, is a process that is thorough, fair, transparent and well understood by parents and students. We want everybody to feel welcome."

The Roundtable by Subject

Prop. 209 at a Glance

Luke, Johnson, Abdul-Jabar: Why They Came

Taking Action

This story was updated and revised at 12pm on 09/29/06. As part of its ongoing coverage of the admissions issue, UCLA Magazine will provide updated online content as news warrants.

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