The UC Regents’ Committee on Educational Policy passed two action items yesterday in an attempt to guarantee students access to an affordable UC education.

The first item, presented by the Academic Senate, would revise freshmen eligibility requirements, eliminating the SAT II Subject Test. The second proposal, UC President Mark G. Yudof’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, would provide financial aid to cover all systemwide fees for students with household incomes of less than $60,000.

Both items will go before the full board of regents for consideration today.

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said both proposals reflect the priorities of UCSB.

“Both actions are aimed at better fulfilling our University’s mission to offer the best education possible, and to enhance its affordability. I view these actions as aiming at broadening access to the University of California, and making the access affordable for lower-income families,” Yang said in an e-mail. “These actions are consistent with our campus’ commitment to excellence, diversity, accessibility and affordability.”

In Search of Affordable Education

If the board of regents approves the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, the initiative will provide scholarship or grant awards sufficient to cover all UC systemwide fees for students with family incomes less than the state median of $60,000.

Students in this income bracket who file the necessary financial aid documents and meet other basic eligibility requirements for need-based financial aid would receive “gift assistance” for the first four years – or two years for transfer students – of their education at UC.

Yudof said at the meeting that he has been concerned for some time that eligible students were turned away by the “sticker price” of a UC education. He said he worries particularly about first-generation college students being deterred by the complexity of financial aid programs.

“I want to influence that conversation that takes place around the dinner table in August or September where [the question is asked] ‘Should you apply to a UC?’ – data says the family will overestimate the cost and say ‘How could we ever afford a UC education?'” the UC president said. “I’m afraid we lose too many bright, low-income students who don’t think they can afford it … so I want to market this plan and make families as aware as possible so that when they have that conversation they say, ‘You know, if I get in I might be able to afford this.'”

The aid plan is projected to cover an estimated 48,100 undergraduate students and – assuming the regents raise student fees by 9.3 percent – cost $355 million. Cal Grants and other preexisting aid programs would cover the majority of this total cost, however the UC would still need to provide an additional $3.1 million to fund the program.

To offset the remaining balance, Yudof has proposed increasing the percentage revenue reserved for scholarships from 33 to 36 percent for the period of 2009 to 2020.

“Where are we getting the money? If we do raise fees along the way, I would request that the board request that 36 percent is set aside for scholarships,” Yudof said. “If we don’t raise fees, which is highly unlikely, we will just have to find the money.”

Student Regent-designate Jesse Bernal said the committee’s approval of the plan will reassure low-income families across the state.

“Today the regents send a strong message to all California families: That a UC education is not only attainable but is also financially possible,” he said.

However, University of California Student Association President Lucero Chavez reminded the members of the committee that the initiative was not a quick fix to all of the University’s economic barriers.

“Students understand the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan is a step toward ensuring the affordability of a UC education for the neediest students,” Chavez said. “But anything near a 10 percent fee increase passed by the governor would overshadow such progress. … This is just a step, not a solution, to budget crisis, but it’s one proactive step.”

Broadening the Applicant Pool

Previously, students seeking entrance to the UC were required to complete two SAT II Subject Tests. If approved by the regents today, this component of the application process will no longer be compulsory. The reform would take effect for the incoming class of 2012.

By eliminating this requirement, the UC projects it will enlarge its applicant pool by an estimated 29,346 students. The University anticipates any additional costs to admission departments will be covered by student’s $60 application fee.

Under the new criteria, students would only need to maintain a 3.0 weighted and capped GPA, enroll in required A-G courses and complete either the ACT Plus Writing or the SAT Reasoning Examination in order to have their application considered by the UC.

Members of the Academic Senate argued before the committee that the SAT II Subject Tests did not significantly contribute to the consideration of potential applicants and excluded thousands of otherwise eligible students from the applying to the UC. Furthermore, the policy disproportionately excluded certain racial and ethnic communities and students from economically disadvantaged areas, they said.

Student Regent-designate Bernal also said the requirement renders high caliber students ineligible and only serves as an additional hurdle for students with unequal educational and economic resources.

“Highly qualified individuals are losing the opportunity to attend a UC because they are forced to jump through seemingly unnecessary hoops,” Bernal said. “It must be clear – reducing barriers to access is compatible with maintaining standards and quality, and the elimination of the SAT II does just this. The Subject Tests provide very little added value to determining the possible success of students once in the UC. It only serves as a barrier, especially to more disadvantaged students.”

The Academic Senate also presented statistical estimates indicating that eliminating the SAT II requirement would increase the percentage of minority and economically disadvantaged students considered in the applicant pool.

In voicing his support for the plan, UC Regent Eddie Island said reducing barriers to entrance would make the University more reflective of the general population.

“I can’t tell you exactly how the different groups will fare down to a percentage point,” Island said. “But I can tell you it will be a lot more fair and make the UC look more like the state of California.”

UCSA President Chavez also said the preexisting policy was unrepresentatively skewing the applicant pool.

“I want to reiterate the importance of looking at a student holistically; the SAT II is not an indication of academic potential,” Chavez, a second-year UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law student, said. “This plan is helping the most underrepresented students who don’t have the financial means to take the exam or the resources to find institutions to [finance the test].”

Still, Bernal said further action is necessary to ensure disadvantaged students have equal academic opportunities to attend the UC.

“Barriers and ‘hoops’ continue to exist,” he said, “including having not all California high schools even offering all A-G requirements.”