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UC Probes Entry Policy

A report finds that hundreds of students were admitted to the Berkeley campus with sub-par SAT scores.

October 07, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

The University of California will launch a comprehensive analysis of admissions at its eight undergraduate campuses in response to a preliminary report on UC Berkeley stating that hundreds of students were admitted in 2002 with SAT scores substantially below the campus norm.

UC President Robert C. Dynes agreed to the systemwide review at the request of UC Board of Regents Chairman John J. Moores, who was the primary author of the report criticizing UC Berkeley's admissions practices, UC spokesman Michael Reese said Monday.

The confidential report, obtained by The Times, found that overall, the admissions process at the campus might not be compatible with UC Berkeley's "goal of maintaining academic excellence." It also found that "further detailed study is warranted."

Moores' preliminary analysis, prepared for his fellow regents, was based on data collected by the UC Berkeley admissions office. It showed that nearly 400 students with scores of 600 to 1000 on the SAT entrance exam were accepted for enrollment at the campus in 2002. Those scores were far below the average of 1337 for that year's admitted class.

(A perfect score on the widely used test is 1600.)

The report also stated that more than 600 applicants with SAT scores of 1500 or higher were not admitted, along with 2,500 others with scores in the 1400 to 1500 range.

UC and Berkeley campus officials were reluctant to criticize, at least publicly, a report written primarily by the chairman of the UC system's governing board. They acknowledged that the statistics in the report were generally accurate -- but they took issue Monday with some of Moores' conclusions, saying that in some instances the data were misinterpreted or taken out of context.

For instance, Berkeley officials said that many of the students who scored high on the SAT but were not admitted had low grade point averages, withdrew their applications before a final decision was made, applied in one of three extraordinarily competitive majors or were residents of other states, for whom standards are higher.

Most significant, they stressed that the SAT is by no means the sole criterion -- or even the most important one -- in admissions officials' judgment of a student's academic record, and that personal achievements also are taken into account.

"This study raises serious policy implications for the UC. For instance, do the people of California really think that an out-of-state student with a high SAT score should automatically gain admission over an eligible in-state student?" asked UC spokesman Reese.

Responding to Moores' report, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl explained in a letter to newly installed UC President Dynes on Monday that students who received "more modest scores" -- below 1000 on the SAT -- all had shown "impressive overall academic and personal achievements."

Nearly half ranked in the top 4% of their high school graduating classes, he wrote, and others provided scores on the ACT -- another college entrance exam -- that would have been equivalent to scores higher than 1000 on the more widely used SAT.

He said that all members of this group have done well in their first year at Berkeley. "Not one has left due to academic deficiency," he wrote.

Also responding to Moores' report, Dynes on Monday wrote a letter to the Board of Regents, noting that systemwide, "campuses use a variety of factors -- predominantly traditional academic criteria, such as grades and test scores, but also other measures of achievement and promise -- to select from a pool of eligible applicants."

He wrote that "campuses are encouraged to draw from the full range" of students who meet the UC's minimum eligibility requirements.

Reese said that the University of California would launch a comprehensive, systemwide study of the issues raised in the report, at Moores' request. The review will be part of a broader examination by regents, faculty and UC administrators of admissions and enrollment challenges.

In an interview Monday, Moores said he hoped the UC system would examine various areas his preliminary report could not, including such demographic factors as the race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status of students granted or denied admission to UC campuses. He also said he wants it to look at the academic performance of admitted students, particularly those whose SAT scores were lower than the average for students at each campus.

"There are compelling reasons for getting this study done right away as far as I'm concerned, and I'm confident President Dynes feels the same way," Moores said.

Among them, he said, is that individual students deserve to understand more fully why they were or were not admitted. This is especially true as the admissions process becomes more competitive, he said.

"But the real wolf at the door is the budget crisis, and that's going to cause the university to have to take a real hard look at exactly how many students we admit," Moores said.

In recent years, UC has implemented a series of policy changes designed to broaden admissions for students from diverse socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, while steering clear of the consideration of race or ethnicity banned at public entities statewide by the 1996 passage of Proposition 209.

Under the 2-year-old policy known as "comprehensive review," admissions officials are allowed to weigh personal factors, not just grades and test scores, in reviewing each applicant, although academic factors are still considered paramount. Another recent policy change guarantees admission to the UC -- although not to a specific campus -- for every student who graduates in the top 4% of his or her high school class.

Reese and other UC officials have said Berkeley's admissions practices are consistent with those of the system's seven other undergraduate campuses.

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