Many African-American students admitted to University of California campuses said they chose to enroll at other universities because of the UC system’s lack of diversity, its high costs to attend and poor outreach to them while they applied, according to a new UC survey.
Even when some African-Americans wanted to enroll at a UC school, they were often told their first- and second-choice campuses had no room. Instead, these students were redirected to another UC school they didn’t want to attend, the survey found.
Authored by a team of UC faculty members from campuses in San Diego, Riverside, Davis and Berkeley and presented last month to the UC’s Academic Senate, the survey was aimed at better understanding priorities for African-American students when choosing a university to attend.
“High-achieving African-American students in California are not attending UC campuses due to a number of factors,” according to the report. “This elite pool of students has therefore sought college options outside of the UC system, gravitating instead towards universities that appreciate and value their strong record of academic achievement, leadership capabilities and commitment to public service.”
As the nation’s most prestigious public university system, the UC has come under criticism in recent years for the disproportionately low number of African-American students enrolled at its 10 campuses.
Since passage in 1996 of Proposition 209, which banned public universities from considering a student’s race in the admission process, the rate of African-American students enrolled at UC has declined by more than 10 percent. In fall 2015, about 3.6 percent of UC’s 257,000 students were African-American.
“This elite pool of (African-American) students has therefore sought college options outside of the UC system, gravitating instead towards universities that appreciate and value their strong record of academic achievement, leadership capabilities and commitment to public service,” according to a report from University of California.
For the report, researchers surveyed 710 African-American students, including 558 from California, who were admitted to a UC campus in fall 2015. Most were high academic achievers involved in a variety of extracurricular, community service and leadership activities in high school, according to the report. Researchers asked them what factors weighed heaviest in choosing a campus to attend. These are among the key findings cited in the survey:
- Diversity and campus climate: 67 percent of respondents said diversity was a priority when choosing a campus. Some of these respondents said they didn’t want to be the “only black person.” These concerns prompted students to opt for the more diverse California State University campuses, private schools or historically black colleges.
- Outreach: 68 percent of respondents who turned down UC said they had little or no contact with UC recruiters during the admissions process. Instead, they said, recruiters from non-UC universities were much more active in reaching out to African-American students.
- Access: 64 percent of respondents who turned down UC said they were denied admission to the UC’s most selective campuses – Berkeley, San Diego or Los Angeles. One third of these respondents said they were only offered admission to UC’s least selective campus, Merced. About 45 percent of the respondents said they were offered admission to Ivy League universities, or to other highly selective schools such as Stanford University or MIT, where they instead decided to enroll.
- Affordability: 84 percent of respondents said the cost to attend UC played a factor in their decision. Some chose less expensive alternatives or universities where they could get more generous financial aid packages, which made them feel more wanted.
- High school support: Just 10 percent of respondents who turned down UC said high school counselors were knowledgeable about UC academic programs and opportunities, provided enough guidance beyond the application preparation process and encouraged them to apply to UC.
The report listed recommendations to encourage more African-American students to attend UC, including: establishing a single application fee that allows students to apply to multiple UC campuses, increasing UC’s outreach and support efforts at urban high schools with high concentrations of African-American and other minority students, encouraging African-Americans who are UC alumni and current UC students to mentor and assist in recruitment, and increasing the financial aid and scholarships available to minorities, low-income and middle-income students.
Recently, UC has launched some initiatives to boost the number of African-American and Latino students applying and enrolling at UC.
UC President Janet Napolitano has spent part of this spring visiting high schools around the state with high rates of underrepresented students to tout UC’s reputation, financial aid programs and efforts to increase diversity.
UC is also expanding its Achieve Program, with admissions officers, recruiters and chancellors from UC campuses visiting churches, career fairs, community events and other venues to educate students and families on the admissions requirements and application process for UC. Officials said they hope to reach up to 60,000 students this spring at Achieve Program events.
Napolitano, who visited with students at Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles earlier this month, said she hopes these efforts can lead to a UC population that better reflects California’s diversity.
“We want students and their families to know that a UC education is attainable and it’s affordable,” she said, according to the L.A. Times. “We should be more focused. We should put some real energy into this.”
Note: This article has been updated to show the survey was authored by a team of UC faculty from four campuses, and not by the UC office of the President.