By Travis Hunter
A recent UC faculty report found a new admissions system designed to encourage students to demonstrate “total excellence” is, well, totally excellent because it didn’t change much.
The report, released on Nov. 14 at a UC Regents meeting in San Francisco, found the comprehensive review admissions process was successfully implemented at the six “selective” UC campuses – Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Comprehensive review, implemented in the Fall 2002 admissions cycle, expands the criteria for judging candidates. The previous system was based solely on grade-point average and standardized test scores; the new review process includes other criteria, such as extra-curricular activities and hardships overcome.
The report by the Academic Senate said the new system did not cause a drop in the average GPA and test scores for the new class, nor did it significantly change the racial makeup of the new class.
The findings on racial diversity put an end to speculation within the University that comprehensive review was a way to bring race back into the admissions process for the first time since affirmative action was eliminated in 1997.
“There were people like [UC Regent] Ward Connerly who were trying to argue that this was a way of smuggling in racial preferences,” said Richard Flacks, UCSB professor of sociology and member of Academic Senate’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS). “These steady patterns show that he was wrong about that.”
Michael Brown, UCSB professor of education and former vice-chair of BOARS, said it would be difficult for an admissions staff-member to discern the race of an applicant.
“Most students don’t mention their race in their personal statement,” he said. “Plus, every application may have two, three, maybe four reviewers, all specifically instructed not to consider race in the process.”
The report also allayed fears the new system would cause a “dumbing-down” of the University by passing over students with superior grades for those with more of the extra criteria considered by comprehensive review.
“By most traditional indicators of academic quality, the new class remained the same,” Brown said.
Students who excel in the strict academic sense should not worry that the new system is slanted against them, Flacks said.
“We’ve always tried to admit the best students from every high school in California, and we still do,” he said. “Anyone who has done very well academically will get into one of their favorite campuses.”
The focus of the new system is not to penalize academically elite applicants, but to encourage all students to participate in extra-curricular activities and to include more information on their applications, said Barbara Sawrey, UCSD professor of chemistry and BOARS chair.
“We want students to challenge themselves in a broad context,” she said.
Brown agreed that comprehensive review would encourage applicants to strive to be well rounded.
“This new system sends a message to students that we’re not just looking at test scores,” Brown said. “We’re looking for total excellence.”
The report also outlined the success of two pilot programs designed to determine if students were being honest in all facets of the application. The programs were conducted by UCSD and the UC Office of the President, and analyzed a total of around 450 applications. The applications were reviewed to ensure the validity of information ranging from school club membership to hardships a student claims to have overcome. The pilot programs, which will be expanded to check a larger number of applications for Fall 2003, uncovered no false claims, Sawrey said.
“These programs exist just to get the message out to both an applicant who is thinking of being dishonest and to the honest students so they know we’re checking everything,” she said.
Admissions staff considers a much larger amount of information under comprehensive review, so extra staff was needed to complete the process in the same amount of time as years past.
Director of Admissions Christine Van Gieson said for last year’s process she hired 10 to 12 additional reviewers, consisting of former admissions employees, university staff, counselors and teachers. She foresees bringing in an even higher number of people for Fall 2003 admissions.
The new system is worth the extra work, Flacks said.
“It would be a lot cheaper to just add up GPAs and test scores, but we feel this is actually fairer,” he said. “Private schools have done it this way for generations, and if Harvard feels that it works at their school, we feel it can work here at UCSB.”