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Faculty split over proposal on UC eligibility

Revised rules would aim to boost the number of applicants. Critics dislike scaling back admission guarantees.

December 16, 2007|Larry Gordon | Times Staff Writer

UC faculty leaders are debating a proposal to change freshman admission rules in ways that would broaden the pool of potential applicants but also limit the guarantees of entrance for some high-achieving students.

Under the controversial proposal, the University of California would still take students from the top academic 12.5% of high school seniors but alter how it defines that group. For example, it would drop the requirement that applicants take two standardized subject tests in addition to the more generalized SAT test or ACT exam.

Its backers say the proposal would encourage more applicants, particularly those from lower-income families and high schools that don't offer a full array of advanced classes, to gain at least consideration at UC's nine undergraduate campuses.

But another element of the complicated proposal has triggered much concern. Under current policy, a large group of students with strong enough grades and test scores can achieve what is called UC eligibility. They may not get into their first- or even fourth-choice school but are guaranteed a spot at a campus with room, usually UC Riverside or UC Merced. The proposed change would, in part, end that guarantee.

Critics applaud the goal of attracting bright students who, under the current rules, might miss eligibility because of a technicality or poor counseling at an overcrowded high school. But they say it is wrong to chip away at the guarantee policies, suggesting that such a change might provoke an uproar among parents and lawmakers.

UC's systemwide Academic Council of faculty leaders is scheduled to discuss the proposal Wednesday at a closed-door meeting in Oakland. Several prominent professors say they anticipate the proposal will face major revisions if it is to move forward to the UC Board of Regents for final approval; some suggest parts of it may already be dead on arrival.

The proposal comes from a faculty panel known as the Board of Admissions and Relations With Schools. Its chairman, Mark Rashid, a civil and environmental engineering professor at UC Davis, said the proposal would not eliminate students currently eligible for UC admission from receiving a review of their application.

He estimated that the proposed rule changes would result in about 15% more applications to UC every year.

"The students who are successful at negotiating the bureaucratic complexity [of applications] typically have access to high-quality counseling or doting parents who are watching over the process," Rashid said. "But those who don't can fail for reasons that have nothing to do with their academic achievement or their potential for achieving in college. We should aspire to be more fair than that."

The Board of Admissions and Relations With Schools proposal would keep the so-called A-G sequence of 15 high school courses needed for entry into the UC system. It also would still guarantee admission to at least one UC campus for students ranking in the top academic 4% of their high schools. (About 20% of applicants get into UC this way.)

Taking the SAT, which tests critical reading, writing and math skills, or the ACT would still be necessary to gain UC admission. But the requirement to complete two supplemental SAT subject tests in such topics as U.S. history and chemistry would be dropped. Those supplemental tests contribute "little, if anything" to predicting success in college, according to a Board of Admissions and Relations With Schools report.

Failure to take two subject tests is the most common reason that otherwise eligible students with excellent grades and good SAT scores get disqualified from UC, officials said. This often happens to students at high schools with insufficient college counseling. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately disqualified because of that requirement, officials said.

A sweeping change is proposed for the most common way applicants become eligible for UC.

Currently, students become eligible through a sliding scale that weighs grade-point average and standardized test scores. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is needed in required classes, although students receive an upward bump for some advanced placement and honors courses.

The proposal would eliminate the sliding scale of grades and test scores. Instead, students would become "entitled for review" if they have a minimum GPA of 2.8, without the current boost given for advanced placement and honors courses. Then, in a much more competitive process, individual campuses would further assess applicants by looking at their grades, SAT scores, the number of advanced placement classes taken, extracurricular activities and other factors.

Out-of-state applicants, who constitute about one-tenth of the estimated 35,000 freshmen, still would need higher grades and scores than California students.

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