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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 signature.

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."

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 students.

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 statewide.

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.

Carl Irving



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