Taking Action to Admit
UCLA tweaks its admissions process to stop the black student enrollment decline
It was a self-described crisis. In the fall of 2006, only 103 black students said they planned to enroll as freshmen at the University of California-Los Angeles. That's the lowest black enrollment in 30 yearsjust 2 percent of the flagship public university's incoming class of about 4,800 first-year students. "We were devastated, and that was an understatement," says Janina Montero, vice chancellor for student affairs at UCLA.
With record numbers of students applying to colleges nationwide, admission is more competitive than ever, and the formula for who gets in is more complex. UCLA has one more variable to consider. Or not. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209, a referendum to end affirmative action in public education, hiring, and state contracting. (Similar initiatives already have passed in four other states and could be on the 2008 ballot in several more.)
Without access to the race-specific considerations of affirmative action, UCLA has had to rework its admissions and recruiting processes or face enrollment numbers for black students like those from last fall.
This year, Montero and other UCLA officials are breathing a bit easier. The number of black students who were admitted to the UCLA freshman class for this fall jumped from 249 in 2006 to 392, the school recently announced, and the number who plan to enroll roughly doubled to 203, or 4.5 percent.
Achieving that increase required an unprecedented effort. UCLA created an African American Student Enrollment Task Force that conducted phone-a-thons to reach prospective students in California. The school's Black Alumni Association gathered donations to fly in and host 50 black students, who had been admitted to UCLA but had not yet enrolled, for a whirlwind weekend of campus activities. Private organizations raised more than $1.75 million, enough to give every black student who enrolled for this fall at least a $1,000 grant.
Finally, the school implemented a new admissions process, called holistic review, in which each application is read in its entirety by one person, rather than having sections reviewed by different people. This change complemented the university's six-year-old comprehensive review policy that considers test scores and grade-point averages in light of students' life experiences and special circumstances.
State by state. "We pulled out all the stops this year," says D'Artagnan Scorza, a UCLA student and access coordinator for the school's African Student Union. "We, so to speak, stopped the bleeding." But Scorza and others say the job is far from over. "We have momentum and are moving forward," he says, "but it could very easily and very quickly be lost."
More universities could face the same factors that led to the low black student enrollment at UCLA. All colleges are struggling with how to handle the booming number of students applying. And after Prop. 209 passed, Texas, Florida, Washington, andlast NovemberMichigan also eliminated state-supported affirmative action. Activists are now working to add similar referendums to the November 2008 ballots in states such as Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Nebraska.
The impact of the bans has been mixed and has changed over time. While across the UC system the number of African-American and Latino students dropped immediately after Prop. 209, those figures are slowly rising. Texas saw a similar post-ban decline, but the numbers improved after the state guaranteed college access to students in the top 10 percent of all Texas high schools, creating a path for students from predominantly black high schools.