The number of underrepresented minority students at California universities declined significantly after the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 ended the use of affirmative action by government bodies in California.

Jess Cox
Underrepresented minority enrollment levels for UC schools

But despite efforts to increase the number of minorities, only some UC schools have been able to rebound, while the more competitive ones still have extremely low numbers of minority students, according to reports issued by the University of California system-wide office.

Proposition 209 is nearly identical to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which will be on the 2006 ballot in Michigan if enough of the 508,000 signatures gathered are verified. Many opponents of the initiative fear a significant decrease in the number of minorities enrolling at the University will also occur if MCRI passes.

While officials at the University have expressed concerns that minority enrollment will drop dramatically if MCRI is passed, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she does not plan on creating a contingency plan that could be implemented to recruit underrepresented minorities if MCRI passes.

Coleman said she remains optimistic that by educating the public on the potential effects of MCRI the proposal can be defeated.

“My goal is to really voice my own opinions about the negative and unintended consequences MCRI could have if it is passed,” Coleman said.

UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina said the number of minority students enrolled at UC schools has rebounded to some degree in recent years, but she said there is still work to be done.

“After (Proposition 209) went into effect there was a significant drop in underrepresented minority students at the University of California,” Poorsina said. “Although we’ve since managed to recover to a certain degree, there are still areas in which there are low numbers of underrepresented minority students.”

The total number of freshman applicants for UC schools for 1995 was 45,714, 22.1 percent or 10,083 of which came from underrepresented minority applicants. The total number of freshman applicants for fall 2005 was 76,152, 22.7 percent or 17,287 of which came from underrepresented minority applicants.

But the number of underrepresented minority students at two of UC’s most exclusive campuses — Berkeley and Los Angeles — have not recovered back to their rates before Proposition 209 was passed.

At the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, the percentage of underrepresented minority students accepted to these schools declined from 26.1 percent and 26.7 percent, respectively, in 1995, to 11.2 percent and 12.7 percent respectively in 1999. But the numbers increased slightly in 2004, rising to 13.1 percent and 17.6 percent respectively.

In an opinion piece published in the March 27 edition of The Los Angeles Times, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said he believes Proposition 209 has created an environment that students of color feel is discriminatory.

“Freshman enrollment at UC Berkeley, for instance, has gone from 260 black students in 1997 to just 108 students this year,” Birgeneau said in the article. “That’s too small a number to form a supportive student community, and many of Berkeley’s black freshmen view themselves as struggling against a hostile environment.”

Birgeneau also said in a press release on March 29 that there were no black freshmen in the university’s applied science and engineering program last year.

There are various explanations offered as to why underrepresented minority enrollment at UC’s more exclusive campuses has been unable to return to its pre-1996 rates.

“The best explanation is that even though we’re sensitive to people’s backgrounds and all of the things in the (application review process), academics are first and foremost,” Poorsina said. “(Berkeley and Los Angeles) are extremely competitive, and it just so happens that the ethnic make-up of the students who go there tend to lag in distribution of ethnicity.”

Diane Schachterle, director of public affairs for the American Civil Rights Institute, said she attributes the lack of underrepresented minorities to problems within the primary school system in California.

“I think we need to look at the K-12 systems that are feeding the universities,” Schachterle said. “We need to go out into the K-12 system and … help them.”

Schachterle said more effort has been made in the past year on the part of the universities to analyze the weaknesses in the K-12 systems, and more work will continue to be done.

In a 2003 statement, UC President Richard Atkinson said he believes educational disadvantage is extremely evident in students’ eligibility rates for UC. According to his statement, a recent study found that 30 percent of Asian-American students in California and 13 percent of white students met UC eligibility requirements, while only 4 percent of Latinos and 3 percent of blacks met the requirements — a statistic Atkinson called “disheartening.”

UC schools have instituted a variety of measures since the passage of Proposition 209 in an effort to increase the number of minority applicants.

Poorsina said one of the most successful programs UC has implemented is called Comprehensive Review. The program created a new process under which student applications are reviewed.

For example, students are not accepted only on the basis of their GPA or ACT scores, but also on factors such as how many AP courses were available at their high school and how many they took, and whether they are the first person in their family to attend college.

“I think this program helps with making sure that we’re accessible to everyone, because some areas don’t have the resources that others do,” Poorsina said. “It’s not designed to go around 209, it’s meant to make sure that we’re getting every corner of California.”

UC has also implemented a program called Eligibility in the Local Context, which grants eligibility to the top 4 percent of the graduating class in each California high school.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University has investigated implementing programs like the ones at UC, but it does not believe such programs could successfully replace its existing admissions policies.

“We already have in place the system we think is the most effective at bringing in a student body that is broadly diverse and that brings in the most academically qualified students who contribute to the intellectual excitement of the University environment,” Peterson said.

“Anything else that we would try to do would be less effective — if not, we would already be using it,” she added.

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