Why high achieving African American students are opting out of UC

Why high achieving African American students are opting out of UC
File photo: Protest over Prop 209

File photo: Protest over Prop 209

Since passage of Proposition 209 in 1996, the rate of African-American students enrolled at UC campuses has declined by more than 10 percent. In the fall 2015, only 3.6 percent of the University of California’s 257,000 students were of African-American descent.

In late April, a team of UC faculty members from campuses in San Diego, Riverside, Davis and Berkeley published a report aimed at better understanding priorities for African-American students when choosing which university to attend. 

According to the report, “California has suffered from a hyper-implementation of Proposition 209 over the past 20 years, where attempts to ensure diversity are under strict scrutiny and UC campuses have moved further away from its public mission, under the California Master Plan—to serve students in the top 12.5 percent of their graduating class. “

The report continued, “Despite the fact that the Supreme Court decision in Grutter (2003) provides campuses with a framework for utilizing race as one factor in a series of admissions variables and factors, Proposition 209 further complicates this possibility and has demonstrated a political will in California that remains hostile to historically underrepresented students of color.”

The report reflected a statewide examination of the college admissions and choice process as experienced by African American students admitted to the UC system for the Fall 2015 admissions cycle. 

Many of the African American students surveyed said even though they were admitted to University of California campuses, they chose to enroll at other universities because of the UC system’s lack of diversity, its high costs to attend and the system’s poor outreach to them during the application process. 

One of the most compelling realities revealed in the report, however, was the majority of the students in both the survey and the interview samples stated they were not admitted to the UC campuses of their choice—campuses identified as highly and moderately selective.  Access to those schools were denied even though the students were in the top 10th percentile of their high school classes, had earned GPAs of a 4.0 or higher, held leadership positions in high school, earned special school and community recognition, were actively engaged in sports or extracurricular activities, and/or worked throughout high school.

“This elite group of students truly represents a very high achieving pool of high school graduates who are self-motivated, engaged and committed to the betterment of the African American community and society,” the report confirmed. 

Fully 64 percent of respondents who turned down UC said they were denied admission to the UC’s most selective campuses like Berkeley, San Diego or Los Angeles; a third said they were only offered admission to UC’s least selective campus, Merced. 

67 percent of respondents said diversity was a priority when choosing a campus. Some of these respondents said they didn’t want to be the “only black person.” 

Also, 84 percent of respondents said the cost to attend UC played a factor in their decision; and, only ten percent said their high school counselors were knowledgeable about UC academic programs and opportunities; provided enough guidance beyond the application preparation process; and encouraged them to apply to UC.

Based on these facts, it is not surprising that some of these students who also received acceptance letters from Ivy League universities, or to other highly selective schools such as Stanford University or MIT, decided to enroll there instead of say, UC Merced for example. It also helps explain why some may have opted for more diverse California State University campuses, private schools or historically black colleges; or chose less expensive universities where in some instances they were offered more generous financial aid packages or, which made them feel more wanted.

The report also included a number of recommendations aimed at encouraging more African Americans to attend UC schools such as establishing a single application fee for multiple applications; increasing minority outreach; in addition to increasing financial aid and scholarships. However, little was offered in terms of how to reconcile the number of qualified African American and other minority students who are being locked of the UC’s most selective campuses. 

To view the full report visit http://iurd.berkeley.edu/research/EXCEL_Report_2016.pdf.

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