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UC Officials Note Racial Disparity in Admissions

March 09, 2004|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Even though state law bans preferences for minorities, black and Latino high school seniors who applied to University of California campuses last year were accepted for admission in numbers somewhat higher than appear warranted, UC officials reported Monday.

They said the pattern among blacks and Latinos was most noticeable at UC Berkeley and UCLA, the system's two most selective campuses, although the numbers were relatively small.

At UC Berkeley, for example, 267 black and Latino students were admitted beyond what officials estimated were warranted. In all, more than 9,300 candidates of all races were offered admission last year.

Officials of the UC system said they had spotted no obvious reason for the apparent admission disparity, but would continue to study what might be behind the pattern. Critics of UC's admission policy have suggested that the university is making an end-run around the state's ban on affirmative action by considering applicants' personal and economic hardships.

Officials discovered the disparities in research prepared for a UC study group investigating the system's admissions practices.

In a prepared statement, UC President Robert C. Dynes said the racial and ethnic disparities have been "reduced dramatically" since voters approved the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 in 1996. Still, Dynes said, he remains "concerned" about "a few presently unexplained differences" in admissions rates of applicants of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

However, he and other UC officials noted that blacks and Latinos continue to be severely underrepresented on UC campuses compared with statewide populations of high school graduates. They said that is largely because Latinos and blacks qualify for admission at much lower rates than whites and Asian Americans.

UC researchers used statistical techniques to calculate how many applicants of each racial and ethnic group qualified for admission. They took into account quantifiable factors such as applicants' grade point averages, SAT I and SAT II scores, the quality of high school they attended, family income level and parents' educational background.

Then the researchers determined the numbers of blacks, Latinos, whites and Asian Americans that should have been admitted and compared those totals to the actual numbers who were offered spaces at the universities.

At UC Berkeley, UC officials found that 234 African American applicants should have been offered admission, yet the campus actually accepted 355. Among Latino applicants, the mathematical model found that 1,076 should have been admitted, but the actual number of those admitted was 1,222.

Meanwhile, white and Asian American students were admitted at UC Berkeley in smaller numbers than the UC statistical techniques would have forecast. The researchers projected that 3,616 white applicants met admissions standards, but only 3,556 were accepted. For Asian Americans, the forecast number of admits was 4,433, but only 4,214 of those applicants were offered spots in the freshman class.

At UCLA, the formula suggested that 188 African American students should have been accepted for admission but, instead, 246 were. For Latinos, the projection was for 1,216 admissions, versus an actual number of 1,291.

Asian Americans, too, were admitted at a slightly higher level than projected at UCLA. The formula suggested that 3,900 should have been admitted, but the actual number was 3,931. For whites, though, the projection was 2,999 students, but 2,872 were in fact admitted.

UC officials said the apparent disparities might be the result of flaws in the formula used to calculate how many applicants of each racial and ethnic group should have been admitted. They said that their mathematical analysis couldn't include all of the criteria that go into admissions decisions, including such factors as leadership, a student's improvement over time and the extent to which they had to overcome disadvantages.

But UC Regent Ward Connerly, a critic of affirmative action who was a leader in the Proposition 209 campaign, said the gap between those who deserved to be admitted and those who actually were admitted might actually be wider than the UC report suggests.

He said the flaws in the mathematical formula used by UC might underplay the problem.

Even if that's not the case, he said, "it's no longer a matter of doubt that somehow race has found its way back into the equation. The administration of our campuses and the office of the president is hard-pressed to say what's going on."

Connerly, referring to Dynes' prepared statement of concern, added, "The president, in his statement, is really implicitly acknowledging that something is going on here.... Bob Dynes wouldn't have made that kind of statement unless the administration was pretty certain that something is, in fact, going on."

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