COURTESY OF UCLA.EDU
Students walk across UCLA campus, which has large enrollments from outside California.

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. 

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  1. FloydThursby1941 10 months ago10 months ago

    The implication is that we have to have affirmative action to not lose this number of highly qualified African Americans. If we have affirmative action, we'll have large numbers of less qualified AA and Latino kids taking spots from Asian and white kids, mostly Asian, who have higher grades and SAT scores, sot he overall number of qualified students will drop. If we have to go back to what we had before 1998, where … Read More

    The implication is that we have to have affirmative action to not lose this number of highly qualified African Americans. If we have affirmative action, we’ll have large numbers of less qualified AA and Latino kids taking spots from Asian and white kids, mostly Asian, who have higher grades and SAT scores, sot he overall number of qualified students will drop. If we have to go back to what we had before 1998, where many black and Latino kids were let in who weren’t as qualified, then so be it, let these kids go to the Ivies and Cal Tech.

    The Ivies have affirmative action and discriminate against Asian applicants even vs. white applicants, and let in many whites based on legacy, faculty connection, donor preference, fame, etc. The UC System is pure, admits on merit only. They should do a better job of noting the differences in GPA from good and bad high schools, as Cal let in the same percentage from Mission without providing later info on how many graduated, which is ludicrous. The truth is there is some subtle affirmative action still alive – no way those at Cal really believed those Mission kids were as hard working, moral, intelligent and able as the kids with slightly lower GPAs from Lowell, because going to Mission means you didn’t get into Lowell.

    Let’s keep the quality of the UCs as the best public university system in the world. Cal and UCLA are competing with Ivies despite far less money in awards and future income because they have neutral standards. Yes, we need to solve racism, but the way to do so is to pay for one on one tutors for 3 hours a week for poor Latino and African American kids, as well as point out to them the obvious, if you want a realistic chance of getting into a UC, you need to study 20+ hours a week from middle school on, including pre-K prep, parents reading to their kids, flashcards, and hard work from elementary school. Basically study what Asian, Nigerian and other immigrant families are doing. You can’t study 6 hours a week, hang out, do what you feel like, and expect any but the rare exception to qualify for top UCs.

    It all comes down to how hard kids work throughout their childhood and how hard parents work preparing them. We never addressed this issue after Prop 209. At the time they made a big deal of saying, we’re going to focus on equalizing effort and support in early childhood. They never followed through on that. We never addressed it and are in the same situation. But if we have to choose between lowering standards and letting some kids choose Ivies and Cal Tech., if that’s the implication, I say, leave things as they are.

    If you really want equality, provide support and give realistic advice to kids about what it takes if you want to make the upper middle class. It’s never been easy to go from poor to rich. It takes an amazing effort, but not that amazing considering millions are making it.

  2. Jennifer Bestor 10 months ago10 months ago

    Do you have the same data on this group *excluding* the extraordinary 45% that were offered places at the Ivies/Stanford/MIT? (These institutions offer places to less than 10% of general applicants.) Beating up the UC system for not competing with the Ivies for such students seems like a total waste of its limited resources. (How much money do you really want to spend to get five kids to chose Berkeley over Stanford, … Read More

    Do you have the same data on this group *excluding* the extraordinary 45% that were offered places at the Ivies/Stanford/MIT? (These institutions offer places to less than 10% of general applicants.) Beating up the UC system for not competing with the Ivies for such students seems like a total waste of its limited resources. (How much money do you really want to spend to get five kids to chose Berkeley over Stanford, Princeton and CalTech?)

    More interesting are the Cal State enrollees. How did that African-American profile compare with the white, Asian and Hispanic profiles? Of those who went to CSU, what percentage did so because they only got into Merced?

    Finally, having glanced through the actual report, I’m a bit startled that your lead refers to choosing other universities because of the UC’s “lack of diversity” — when the report shows a stunning 33% chose so-called PWI’s (Primarily White Universities) elsewhere.

    The danger with any data like this is that the researchers went in to prove what they already “knew,” rather than to discover where the soft spots really are. Thus, it’s easy to invite students to complain about those things that students feel they should complain about.

    That said, the report does seem to show that the UCs are following California law regarding race-blind admissions. The African-American kids who are admitted to UCs, but opting to go elsewhere, appear to be just as qualified as white and Asian kids who are doing the same thing.