California Scholars Seek to Change the State’s Master Higher Education Plan to Provide for More Equal Access to Minority Students

In 1960 the California master plan for higher education restricted entrance to the University of California to the students who ranked in the top 12.5 percent in the state based on their grade point averages and scores on standardized tests. Students who were not part of this group would be steered toward either the California State University system or to the state’s extensive community college network. Because of the reliance on grade point averages and test scores, black students were always a disproportionately small share of the group that qualified for admission to the University of California system.

Then, in 1996 further pressure was placed on black educational opportunities when voters passed Proposition 209 which prohibits state universities from using race in their admissions decisions. This made it extremely difficult for black students to gain admission to the two most selective campuses of Berkeley and UCLA. This fall, blacks are 3.3 percent of the entering students at Berkeley and 2 percent of the freshman class at UCLA.

Now a group of scholars in California is seeking to revise the master plan for higher education to allow for the inclusion of more black and minority students in the pool of candidates eligible for admission to the University of California system. What is envisioned is a major overhaul whereby all students would be evaluated in a holistic approach which would examine a student’s background, leadership abilities, community service, and a wide range of other factors to decide who would be the most likely candidates to succeed at the university.

This “comprehensive review” proposal would cost a great deal of money. The university system would need to hire substantial numbers of admissions officers to conduct the comprehensive examination of each applicant’s record.

Another approach being discussed in higher education circles is the possibility of a public referendum to overturn Proposition 209. In a more progressive political climate and with the changing demographics of the California population, some experts believe that the time is right to mount a challenge to the decade-long ban on affirmative action.

However, this week’s successful effort in Michigan to ban affirmative action will almost certainly put a damper on efforts in California to roll back Proposition 209.