Who Gets In?
WHILE RACIAL PREFERENCE has been ruled out as an admissions criterion in California
and a few other states, in many others it still is an important consideration in
deciding who is admitted to prestigious public campuses and who is not. Here are
a few examples:
The Texas population was 12 percent African American and 25.5 percent Latino
at the time of the 1990 census. Last fall, undergraduate enrollment at the University
of Texas at Austin, the most prestigious public campus in the state, included 4.1
percent black students, 14.7 percent Latino. For the freshman class that entered
last fall, Austin received about 14,600 applications and accepted 10,000 (68 percent),
to fill 6,000 openings.
After an appellate court ruling in 1996 that race could not be considered, and the
upholding of that decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Austin abandoned its old admissions
policies and began to accept applications from students whose high schools confirmed
that they were expected to graduate among the top ten percent academically.
The new policy became state law last year after a 27-to-four vote in the state Senate
and a narrower 77-to-68 margin in the House, followed by Governor George W. Bush’s
Bruce Walker, director of admissions at UT Austin, headed a statewide committee that
tried to fill in details of the new law. Walker said high schools now must provide
precise class standings for all students and also must offer proof of class size
and comparative academic records. But the top ten percent from each public high school
will be entitled to admission and "courses will be no factor," he said.
About 45 percent of those admitted for next fall qualified as "entitled"
students under the new law. The rest were admitted after traditional screening. Although
the Austin campus has for years made room on a more informal basis for the top ten
percent from each high school, the new law increased this number by about 17 percent.
"We’re finding that we still have communications problems getting out information
about the new entitlements," Walker said. "It will take two to three years
for this to be an operation with the full knowledge of all the high schools."
Among all freshman admits, the percentage of African Americans dropped seven percent
from a year ago but the percentage of Latinos and American Indians remained unchanged.
Whites declined seven percent, Asian Americans less than one percent, but the number
quadrupled among those who declined to state race or ethnic origin.
All freshman applicants to Austin are required to submit SAT scores and must write
two essays. Remedial mathematics will be "highly recommended" to "entitled"
students who plan to major in math, engineering or physics, if their test scores
show they are not ready to study calculus, Walker said. Such students will be admitted
but will be asked to change their majors if they fail to meet the math entrance standards.
Remedial courses also will be required beginning in the fall term for entitled students
who show scholastic weaknesses.
Like Austin, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor accepted about two-thirds
of its 19,000 applicants for next year’s freshman class—three times more, proportionately,
than either Berkeley or UCLA.
Unlike Texas or the UC campuses, however, Michigan continues to use affirmative action
to increase enrollment of African Americans. At present, they represent nine percent
of the 24,000 undergraduates, in a state with a 13.9 percent African American population.
Children and grandchildren of alumni also receive admissions priority, and one-third
of the Ann Arbor enrollment comes from outside Michigan.
A university statement on "undergraduate admissions philosophy" lists six
factors that are considered in addition to academic records: unusual achievement;
overcoming obstacles; athletic or artistic talents; place of residence; alumni ties;
and racial or ethnic background.
"Virtually all the major universities in this country take race into account
in admissions," according to the statement. "The University of Michigan
will continue to use race as a factor in making admissions decisions as long as it
is lawful to do so and has no intention of changing this policy."
VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA
The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, and the flagship Chapel Hill
campus of the University of North Carolina also use affirmative action to admit minority
Each of the southern campuses accepts about one-third of its freshman applicants.
Both accept more than 60 percent of applications from qualified in-state students
and both set aside three times more spaces, proportionately, for out-of-state students
than either Berkeley or UCLA. Unlike the UC campuses, both the Charlottesville and
Chapel Hill campuses give priority to "legacies"—children of alumni.
Berkeley admissions officials consulted with those at the University of Virginia,
where students seeking admission must submit several short essays, and one long one,
on a range of topics. At least three members of the admissions staff read each application,
and strong essays can be decisive.
Substantive letters of recommendation also can increase an applicant’s chances. Children
and stepchildren of alumni have a 60 percent chance of admission, 25 percent higher
than the overall acceptance rate. Among Virginia residents, who make up 65 percent
of the freshman class, the campus gives "special consideration" to students
with "ethnic, minority, rural, economically or educationally deprived backgrounds."
African Americans comprise about 11 percent of undergraduates, compared with 18 percent
At Chapel Hill, "race is one factor among many used in the admissions process,"
said Jerome A. Lucido, associate vice chancellor and director of admissions.
Besides grades, test scores and class rank, consideration is given to courses taken,
leadership and other qualities such as "an ability to set and achieve goals,
ability to overcome obstacles and whether a student is the first in her or his family
to attend college," Lucido said.
African Americans make up 11.8 percent of the undergraduate enrollment at Chapel
Hill. They are 22 percent of the statewide population.
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