Despite recent improvements, Latino and black students continue to lag behind whites and Asians in becoming academically eligible to enter California's two public university systems, according to a state report released Tuesday.
The study by the California Postsecondary Education Commission also showed that female high school seniors still do significantly better than males in taking required classes and earning grades and test scores that could gain them admission to the University of California and California State University systems.
Murray J. Haberman, the commission's executive director, said he was pleased by the improved eligibility rates for African Americans and Latinos in the Cal State system. "Things are certainly moving in the right direction, although we still have a long way to go," he said.
Haberman criticized recent proposals to reduce or cap enrollment at Cal State and UC. "Exactly at the time that more students are preparing themselves to go on to higher education, we are beginning to close the doors on so many of these students," he said.
A student who wants to be admitted to either university first has to establish basic eligibility, then must typically meet separate, often tougher standards for the campuses at which they hope to enroll.
The study reported that 22.5% of Latino high school graduates were eligible for Cal State in 2007, up from 16% in 2003, when the last such study was done. For black students, Cal State eligibility went up to 24%, from 18.6%.
Latino and black eligibility for UC's more rigorous standards were 6.9% and 6.3%,respectively, last year, slightly higher than four years ago.
White and Asian students did better in meeting requirements for both universities. For Cal State, 37.1% of white high school graduates were eligible last year and 50.9% of Asians, both somewhat higher than in 2003. For UC, 14.6% of white graduates and 29.4% of Asians met course, grade and test score requirements; those rates were both slightly lower than in the previous survey.
Factors holding down eligibility rates for black and Latino students include shortages of the necessary courses and sometimes inadequate counseling at high schools in many low-income, often predominantly minority areas, Haberman said.
Overall, Cal State rates rose mainly because more students met new requirements to take a second year of history and lab science, said Adrian Griffin, the commission's research director. Griffin presented the report at a meeting Tuesday in Sacramento.
"It takes time for schools to adjust their offerings, and it takes a while for the message to sink in for students," he said.
Griffin attributed the drops in white and Asian eligibility for UC to tighter course and grade requirements at the university.
Griffin also suggested that California's high school exit exam, required since 2006, cut out weaker students and may have affected eligibility rates somewhat.
Continuing a gender imbalance at many U.S. colleges, more women than men were ready for California's state universities. About 15.3% of female high school graduates were eligible for UC, compared with 11.2% of males, and 37.6% of women for Cal State, compared with 27.3% for males.
On a sliding scale that also includes standardized test scores, UC's minimum grade point average in required high school courses is now a 3.0 -- a B average on a 4-point scale -- and Cal State's is a 2.0, or a C average.
Those minimums, however, do not guarantee a spot at the most popular campuses, where much higher standards usually are enforced.
The eligibility study, which surveyed 72,000 transcripts at 158 public high schools around California, found that UC and Cal State requirements are well-aligned with their missions under the state's 1960 master plan for higher education.
About 13.4% of California high school graduates were found to be eligible for UC in 2007, near the university's target under the master plan of drawing from the top 12.5% of the state's high school graduates. The Cal State eligibility rate was 32.7%, very close to its 33.3% master plan guideline.
Previous commission surveys influenced university requirements.
For example, four years ago, a report found that many otherwise UC-eligible students could not be accepted because they had not taken the two subject exams required by UC in addition to the basic SAT or ACT tests. Now, UC is on the verge of changes that, among other things, would drop the subject tests mandate.