By Terence Chea
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A new admissions policy set to take effect at the University of California system in three years is raising fears among Asian Americans that it will reduce their numbers on campus, where they account for 40 percent of all undergraduates.
University officials say the new standards — consisting of the biggest changes in UC admissions since 1960 — are intended to make the process fairer.
The new policy drops some testing requirements and dramatically expands the number of students who will be eligible to apply. Asians will make up a smaller portion of the applicant pool when the policy takes effect for the new class in 2012.
Asian Americans make up about 12 percent of California’s population and 4 percent of the U.S. population overall. But there are a higher proportion of Asians at California’s elite public universities because they tend to have higher test scores and grade point averages than other groups.
Asian American advocates, parents, and lawmakers are angrily calling on the university to rescind the new policy, which will apply at all nine of the system’s undergraduate campuses.
They point to a UC projection that said the new standards would sharply reduce Asian American admissions while resulting in little change for Blacks and Hispanics and a big gain for white students.
“I like to call it affirmative action for whites,” said Ling-chi Wang, a retired professor at UC Berkeley. “I think it’s extremely unfair to Asian Americans on the one hand and underrepresented minorities on the other.”
Asian Americans are the single largest ethnic group among UC’s 173,000 undergraduates. In 2008, they accounted for 40 percent at UCLA and 43 percent at UC Berkeley — the two most selective campuses in the UC system — as well as 50 percent at UC San Diego and 54 percent at UC Irvine.
The new policy, approved unanimously by the UC Board of Regents in February, will greatly expand the applicant pool, eliminate the requirement that applicants take two admission tests, and reduce the number of students guaranteed admission based on grades and test scores alone. It takes effect for the first-year class of fall 2012.
Some Asian Americans have charged that the university is trying to reduce Asian American enrollment. Others say that it is not the intent, but it will be the result.
UC officials adamantly deny that the intent is to increase racial diversity, and they reject allegations that the policy would violate a 1996 voter-approved ban on affirmative action that allowed admissions officers to favor minority students in some cases.
“The primary goal is fairness and eliminating barriers that seem unnecessary,” UC President Mark Yudof said. “It means that if you’re a parent out there, more of your sons’ and daughters’ files will be reviewed.”
Yudof and other officials disputed the internal study that projected a drop of about 20 percent in Asian American admissions, saying it is impossible to accurately predict the effects. “This is not Armageddon for Asian American students,” Yudof said.
At San Francisco’s Lowell High School, one of the top public schools in the country, about 70 percent of the students are of Asian descent and more than 40 percent attend UC after graduation.
“If there are Asian Americans who are qualified and don’t get into UC because they’re trying to increase diversity, then I think that’s unfair,” said 16-year-old junior Jessica Peng. “I think that UC is lowering its standards by doing that.”
One of the biggest changes is scrapping the requirement that applicants take two subject tests of the SAT college admissions exam. UC officials say the tests do little to predict who will succeed at UC, no other public university requires them, and many high-achieving students are disqualified because they do not take them.
The policy also widens the pool of candidates by allowing applications from all students who complete the required high school courses, take the main exams, and maintain a certain grade-point average. Under the current policy, students have to rank in the top 12.5 percent of California high school graduates to be eligible.
Students still have to apply to individual campuses, where admissions officers are allowed to consider each applicants’ grades, test scores, personal background, extracurricular activities, and other factors — but not race.
The policy is expected to increase competition for UC admission. This year, the university turned away the largest number of students in years after it received a record number applications and needed to cut freshman enrollment because of the state’s budget crisis. ♦