At California schools, alternatives to affirmative action have mixed results

Published: Tuesday, July 2 2013 5:03 p.m. MDT

Demonstrators Sid Jacobo, left, and Jazel Flores, right, both University of California- Berkeley students, protest outside of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after a panel heard arguments in San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 13, 2012.

Paul Sakuma, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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After California banned the use of affirmative action at its public universities in 1996, the number of black and Latino enrolments dropped starkly. While California has instituted other admissions policies and procedures to ameliorate the impact of the affirmative action ban, the results have not returned Latino and black enrollment to pre-ban levels at California’s elite public schools, according the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported that while the percentage of blacks has nearly recovered to pre-ban levels and the percentage of Latinos has grown across the California university system overall, at California’s most prestigious schools, the picture looks very different.

At UCLA, for example, African-American freshmen dropped from 7.1 percent of the class in 1995 to 3.6 percent in 20120. At UC Berkeley, a similar pattern appeared where African-Americans made up 6.3 percent of the freshmen class in 1995 but only 3.4 percent in 2012.

Similar numbers are seen among Latino enrollment at these institutions. At UCLA, the percentage of Latino freshman was 21.5 percent in 1995, dropped to 10.4 percent by 1998 and was 18.1 percent last fall. UC Berkeley's percentage of Latino freshman in 1995 was 15.5 percent, was as low as 7.3 percent after the ban, and recovered somewhat to 13 percent last year.

The news out of California’s public schools comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to send a challenge to the University of Texas’s affirmative action program back to the lower courts. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s reasoning was that the lower court had not examined the case under a “strict scrutiny” standard, meaning that the University of Texas had to show that before turning to racial classifications that “available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”

California has instituted a number of policies to improve diversity enrollment. The schools no longer consider just grade point average and standardized test scores; while those are still the most important factors, the schools also consider them “in the context of students' talents, life challenges, language barriers and family income,” according to the Times. Additionally, students who graduate in the top 9 percent of their class are guaranteed admission to a UC school, but not UC Berkeley or UCLA. Colleges in the system are also bolstering recruiting and tutoring efforts at schools with larger percentages of minorities.

Ward Connerly, a former UC regent and main supporter of the affirmative action ban, said while some of these efforts might violate the legal letter of the ban, he was not interested in pursuing action against the schools. The important thing, Connerly said to the Times, was that the UC system had shifted "from a paradigm in which race seeps out of every pore of higher education to one where they are not expected to use it."

EMAIL: dmerling@deseretnews.com

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