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Overall, Race No Factor for Low-Scoring UC Applicants

November 03, 2003|Rebecca Trounson, Stuart Silverstein and Doug Smith | Times Staff Writers

Latinos with low SAT scores are admitted to the University of California at rates only slightly higher than whites and Asians, while blacks who score poorly are significantly less likely to get in, according to a Times analysis.

All told, the groups underrepresented on UC campuses -- African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans -- are admitted with below-average SAT scores at the same rates as whites and Asians.

The analysis of freshman applicants to UC over the last two years offers a complex portrait of admissions at the public university, the state's most prestigious system of higher education.

The university's admissions practices have come under scrutiny in recent weeks amid a growing debate over the disclosure that hundreds of students were admitted to UC Berkeley last year with scores of 1000 or below on the SAT.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA admissions -- An article in Monday's Section A incorrectly reported that black and Latino students with SAT scores of 1,000 or less were about one-quarter more likely to be admitted to UCLA than Asian or white students with similar scores. The correct figure is 53%, as shown in the chart that accompanied the article.

The national average on the widely used college entrance exam is about 1020 of a possible 1600. The average for students admitted in 2002 at UC Berkeley, generally the most competitive of the eight undergraduate campuses in the UC system, was 1337.

The debate on admissions practices focuses on whether the university's policy in recent years of considering personal factors, such as hardship, as well as academic qualifications, such as grades and test scores, has weakened the caliber of students. Critics have also questioned whether the policy is a back-door way around the state's ban on affirmative action.

The University of California provided data pertaining to applicants with scores of 1000 or below who sought admission to freshman classes in the fall of 2002 and 2003. The Times calculated the percentages.

Among the findings:

* Taken together, low-scoring blacks, Latinos and Native Americans were just as likely to be admitted as Asians and whites. The admission rate for both groups was 63%.

In all, 67% of low-scoring Latino applicants were admitted to at least one UC campus, compared with 65% of Asians and 60% of whites.

But only 49% of black applicants with similarly low scores were admitted.

* The picture was different at the university's two most competitive campuses, where Latinos and blacks -- who make up a smaller share of the student body relative to their numbers in the state's population -- were more likely to be accepted.

UC Berkeley, the original focus of the admissions debate, admitted low-scoring blacks and Latinos at twice the rate of Asians and whites with similar scores.

UCLA was about a quarter more likely to admit low-scoring African Americans and Latinos than whites and Asians.

Both campuses were much more selective than others, however. Berkeley accepted only 8% of all low-scoring applicants and UCLA 7%. In all, about 1,500 low-scoring students--a relatively small number -- were admitted at the two campuses over the two-year period.

* In most cases, though, having a low score on the SAT was not a bar to admission to the UC system.

Sixty-two percent of applicants with SAT scores of 1000 or below were accepted to at least one UC campus in the last two years. About half of those admitted students enrolled.

UC officials said the Times analysis was limited because it was based on the SAT, which they called just one factor in admissions and a weak indicator of college performance. But they saw some vindication in the findings.

"On the face of it, the findings suggest that UC admissions is on track and that, among eligible students, no single group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged in the admissions process," UC spokesman Michael Reese said in a prepared statement. "Furthermore, it appears that, consistent with Regents' policy, campuses are drawing from the full range of the eligibility pool."

Dennis Galligani, UC's associate vice president for student services, offered an explanation for some of the findings.

Throughout UC, he said, black students with low SAT scores are admitted at low rates because they, in disproportionate numbers, do not meet the university's basic qualifications. He said he did not know the reasons for that pattern.

The admissions controversy began several weeks ago, when John J. Moores, the chairman of the university's governing board, released a preliminary analysis of freshman admissions at UC Berkeley.

That report showed that in 2002, nearly 400 students with SAT scores of 600 to 1000 were admitted. Moores, a San Diego businessman, raised the concern that under-qualified students were diluting the quality of the flagship campus -- prompting UC Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl to call his actions irresponsible. UC President Robert C. Dynes has called for a broad review of admissions at all eight undergraduate campuses.

The report left many questions unanswered. Moores did not break his findings out by race or ethnicity, so did not address concerns raised by UC Regent Ward Connerly and others that under-qualified black and Latino students might be benefiting from preferences in violation of the state's affirmative action ban.

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