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Commentary

Set Up a Lottery for UC's Top Applicants

Education: SAT points and GPAs favor affluent students. Changing the ground rules would help minorities compete.

April 02, 1998|RONALD TAKAKI | Ronald Takaki is a professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley and author of "A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America" (Little, Brown, 1993)

Only 191 African American and 600 Latino students have been admitted to UC Berkeley for fall 1998; together they total only 10% of the admitted class, down from 23% for 1997. At UCLA, the number of African Americans admitted dropped 43%, Latinos 33%. Yet these students come from communities that compose close to 40% of the state's population.

Largely overlooked in the discussions over this disturbing decline in minority admissions is the fact that, at Berkeley, 800 of the rejected African American and Latino applicants had 4.0 grade point averages.

With perfect grades, why were they not admitted?

The answer is clear. They were not as "competitive" as the students with higher GPAs and higher SATs.

Students can achieve a GPA beyond 4.0 by taking advanced placement courses and receiving a top score of 5.0 for such courses. However, this method of measuring merit favors those students who attend suburban schools, with the financial resources to offer an abundance of AP courses.

The use of the SAT also constructs an uneven playing field for minority students. SAT scores correlate with the family incomes of students. Students from wealthier families can afford to take the exams several times and also to enroll in expensive SAT preparation courses.

These two unfair ways of evaluating applicants undermine equality of educational opportunity for minorities. Affirmative action was designed to help level the playing field. But until Proposition 209 can be overturned, what can be done?

The university can eliminate the awarding of bonus points to AP courses. Like colleges and universities that have abandoned the SAT requirement, UC can also abolish dependence on or give significantly less weight to the SAT.

Moreover, UC's most competitive campuses have such an immense and eminently excellent pool of applicants that they can simply take the top third, for example, give numbers to those students and let a lottery do the choosing. This admission procedure would be blind to race, but would open equal educational opportunity to African American and Latino students with a 4.0 GPA. These academically outstanding minority students would be selected randomly along with students who are advantaged by high family incomes and wealthy school districts.

These changes in the admissions procedures would not enable the university to recover the diversity it had before Proposition 209, but such improvements would offer constructive ways for UC to pursue its commitment to serve all of the peoples of California.

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