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UCLA Takes Too Few L.A. Students, Panel Told

The university's top official defends the admissions policy and says the school is restricted by UC system policies and state law.

September 08, 2004|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

State Sen. Richard Alarcon, who heads a legislative committee on university admissions, on Tuesday sharply criticized the freshman entrance policies at UCLA and called on the campus to enroll more qualified local students.

At an occasionally testy public hearing at L.A.'s Locke High School, Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) described as "miserable" the university's recent performance in admitting and enrolling qualified applicants from Locke and other local high schools, especially those with large populations of minority or low-income students.

"UCLA is not doing enough to invest in our local talent," said Alarcon, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles. "I don't believe UCLA is doing enough for L.A."

The senator called on UCLA officials to adopt his recent proposal that the Westwood campus offer admission to the top academic 4% of graduating seniors from all public and private high schools within a 15-mile radius.

The plan is a variation on an admissions program in effect throughout the UC system. Under that program, often called the "4% plan," UC grants automatic admission to the top 4% of seniors from each of the state's high schools, but not necessarily to a particular campus. Many others become eligible for UC system admission, but not to a specific campus or major, if they are within the top 12.5% of students statewide based on grades and test scores.

UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, who testified for nearly two hours at the hearing, strongly defended his campus' efforts to admit qualified local students. And he said he shared much of Alarcon's frustration, particularly at the dwindling number of black, Latino and Native American students admitted to the campus this year.

The UCLA admissions figures for all three groups -- those considered underrepresented on UC campuses -- fell for the class that will enter school this fall. For black students, 199 were admitted, down from 267 in 2003. Among Latinos, 1,152 were admitted, down from 1,303, and for Native Americans, 31 gained admission, a drop from 33 the year before.

"The situation is horrible and we can do better," Carnesale said. He and other UCLA officials, he said, are committed to improving student diversity on campus and are open to working with Alarcon and others to do so.

But Carnesale also said that admissions officials must abide by UC's systemwide admissions policies, which are set by the faculty, and by state law, which since 1997 has forbidden California's public universities from taking race into account in admitting students.

Adding to the difficulty, he said, UCLA is one of the nation's most selective public universities and turns away three of every four students who apply. This year, more than 43,000 students applied for admission as freshmen and about 10,000 were accepted, with about 3,900 expected to attend.

Alarcon cited statistics that show that only two students from Locke and three from Inglewood High School were offered UCLA admission this fall, compared to 42 from Santa Monica High. UCLA officials did not dispute those figures.

The legislator was often impatient Tuesday with the answers from Carnesale and other UCLA officials, at one point accusing them of using the "smoke and mirrors" of a complicated admissions process to keep the Legislature and public in the dark. Aides said that Alarcon was hoping that UCLA would adopt his admissions proposal on its own but that he had no plans to put the concept before the Legislature or UC regents.

Carnesale denied that UCLA was trying to confuse anyone and he invited Alarcon to visit the campus to learn more about its admissions process. But he also said that Alarcon's plan to give preference to Los Angeles-area students could discriminate against those from elsewhere in the state.

With little advance publicity, the hearing at Locke in South Los Angeles was sparsely attended, with about 30 people scattered throughout a large auditorium. But several students denied admission to UCLA and several others still in high school said they supported Alarcon's efforts.

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