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UCLA Agrees to `Holistic' Approach to Admissions

No longer will students' academic and personal files be read by separate reviewers. Concern over a drop in black students helped spur change.

September 29, 2006|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

UCLA announced Thursday that it will shift immediately to a more "holistic" student admissions process, much like UC Berkeley's, in which all facets of each applicant can be considered at once by admissions reviewers.

The change, which was driven partly by campus and community concerns over declining numbers of African American students at UCLA, will be in effect for students applying in November for the 2007-08 school year. Admissions officials said that students should not try to tailor their application to fit the new process.

Some details remain to be worked out, but the announcement came after the third of three faculty panels, all of which had to approve the plan, endorsed it this week. The move had been expected; the revisions have been strongly backed by acting Chancellor Norman Abrams and key faculty leaders.

Abrams said Thursday he was delighted with the vote, which he believes will lead to fairer admissions for all UCLA applicants.

"I am convinced that this will be a better process overall, and I think it will improve the quality of our student body," said Abrams, a veteran UCLA law professor who became acting chancellor July 1.

He and other UCLA officials emphasized, however, that the campus will continue to abide by restrictions imposed by Proposition 209, the 1996 voter initiative that barred California's public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions or employment. And they said they do not know what effect the changes will have on admissions numbers for African American students or any other group.

Abrams and several faculty members said that for more than a year, UCLA's faculty, which sets admissions standards for the campus, had been considering a switch to a model similar to Berkeley's, in which individual readers are allowed to review all parts of an applicant's file.

At UCLA, in what admissions officials have described as an effort to increase objectivity, applicants' files were divided into academic and personal areas, and read by separate reviewers.

But the officials said a major impetus for change came in June, with the release of figures showing that only 96 African Americans -- 2% of the freshman class -- were likely to enroll at UCLA this fall. The numbers, the lowest at the campus since at least 1973, prompted calls from alumni, students and community leaders for an overhaul of UCLA's admissions practices.

Adrienne Lavine, an engineering professor and the outgoing chairwoman of UCLA's faculty senate, said the changes will allow the campus to consider each student's academic achievements in the context of the opportunities available to them in high school, and in light of their family circumstances.

She and others said that was increasingly important, given that more than 47,000 students applied for this year's freshman class.

Jenny Sharpe, an English professor who is chairwoman of the faculty's admissions committee, said the panel also has been working on guidelines for readers that will underline UCLA's mission as a public university and help define the kinds of students it wants.

She said many specifics remain to be worked out, but among the changes being considered is that applicants' essays or personal statements will be read not merely for informational purposes -- as she said they have been until now -- but for evidence of other qualities, including creative thinking and problem-solving.

"We didn't use them to try to get at who the student was, because we weren't able to treat them as individuals," she said. "We will now."

Thomas Lifka, who oversees admissions as UCLA's assistant vice chancellor for student academic services, said that the changes were underway at the admissions office. "It will be a challenge to hire and train all the new readers we'll need and get everything else done," Lifka said. "We're confident that it can all be done in time, but it's going to be tight."

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