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UCLA

The Faces of Change

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By Jack Feuer, Photos by David Black

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM


Seeing the Whole Person

When the crisis erupted in 2006, there was already discussion among university leaders and faculty — the Academic Senate sets admissions policy at UCLA — about the method used to evaluate applications. UCLA used "comprehensive review," in which different readers look at different aspects of a candidate's qualifications. Under consideration was the addition of "holistic" review, a system used at UC Berkeley, the Ivy League schools and other selective institutions, in which applicants are assessed by two trained readers in terms of the full range of their academic and personal achievements, viewed in the context of the opportunities and challenges each has faced.

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Jasmine Hill in her USAC office.

The UCLA Academic Senate voted to approve a holistic model for freshman admissions beginning with the 2007-2008 academic year. Since then, the number of admitted African-American freshmen who choose to enroll at UCLA has topped or come in just under 200 every year. And many others benefited as well: The total number of all underrepresented freshmen rose from 765 in the fall of 2006 to 962 (out of a total of 4,636) in the fall of 2010, according to UARS.

UCLA also received what administration leaders describe as "tremendous" cooperation from UC Berkeley in moving quickly to include holistic review in Westwood. The admissions office made these changes incredibly quickly — over a three- to four-month period.

Ashley V. Williams '12, whose parents are immigrants from Belize, grew up in areas of L.A. so tough she was forced to go to a different junior high school because "my teacher wanted to get me out of the neighborhood." Heavily involved in efforts to increase the African-American population at UCLA and other UC campuses, Williams believes that holistic review "gives students from the inner city a chance to tell their story beyond letter grades."

Her fellow students agree. "We've reaped the benefits of the struggles that people went through to get the admissions policy changed," agrees Jared Richmond '11, a UCLA Foundation scholarship recipient who mentors other Bruin students and is co-director of the Hip-Hop Congress at UCLA, a series of events within USAC's Cultural Affairs Commission.

A Legacy Renewed

Most qualified African Americans were applying to UCLA, but many were choosing to enroll at other elite institutions instead. The fundamental issue, notes Tran, is that "the percentage of African-American students graduating from high school remains a small portion. Admission to UCLA is very competitive, so we won't be able to admit a lot of students. And African Americans have many other choices — the Ivy Leagues, USC, Stanford and elsewhere. It's a challenge for us to meet expectations without violating Prop. 209."

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Jared Richmond tutoring a fellow Bruin.

Private schools, for example, offered full scholarships. UCLA, per policy, could only offer need-based aid. So while the university's efforts were considerable, they were limited by law.

Alumni, however, were a different story. Right away, a handful of major donors stepped up, giving more than $1 million to help the university's efforts to improve yield numbers of African-American admittees. In fact, "the biggest impetus to better yield was offering a scholarship to every admitted African-American student," notes Lifka.

And the UBAA stepped up in a big way as well. "Prop. 209 handcuffs the university, but it doesn't handcuff individuals to do what they deem necessary and important on their own time," notes Rickey Ivie '73, J.D. '77, founding/ managing partner of L.A. law firm Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, and donor and chair of the UBAA board.

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