Recent Report Details Growing Barriers to Entry for UCs and CSUs


According to a report, incoming students at the University of California and California State University will continue to see competitive admissions environments.

The Campaign for College Opportunity, a statewide policy advocacy research organization, released a report titled “Shut Out” in December 2021 detailing the competitive admission rates facing California high school students. The report notes that eligible students are being excluded from higher education due to insufficient state funding.

According to the report, the proportion of California high school students who meet the admission requirements for UC and CSU has increased from 33% to 50% since 2007. There has also been an overall increase in the average admitted students GPA over 4.0 at almost all UC campuses, according to the report.

In particular, black and Latino students experience the exclusion effect the most, according to the report.

The report says UC’s populations do not accurately reflect the ratio of high school graduates by race. While 53% of high school graduates identify as Latino, on nearly all UC campuses, Latino students make up just 30% of the student population. Similarly, 5.3% of high school graduates identify as black, and yet only about 3-4% of UC’s student body is made up of black students.

Audrey Dow, senior vice president of Campaign for College Opportunity, said the campaign has worked to ensure racial and ethnic diversity on all campuses being completed.

“When you look at all campuses, especially Berkeley, Los Angeles, and even San Diego,” Dow said, “you don’t see Latinx or black students represented in proportion to the general demographic that they represent in California.”

Dow said Los Angeles, as the epicenter of Latino culture for the state, should consider providing local admission guarantees at UCLA. She said UCLA needs to remember the regions and neighborhoods it serves.

Another point covered by the report is the value of a bachelor’s degree.

The report explains how the value of a bachelor’s degree in California is increasing, providing great benefits to college-educated populations. These benefits range from a higher annual salary to a greater likelihood of owning a home.

According to a 2020 study titled the Hamilton project referenced by the report, the median annual income for white workers with a college education is about $78,421, while for high school graduates, the median income remains at about $43,178. The report says those numbers only go down when looking at underrepresented communities such as Black and Latino communities.

When the pandemic first hit, Californians with only a high school education or less accounted for more than 80% of initial jobless claims, the report also notes. Conversely, college-educated workers were more often in positions that allowed them to work from home, according to the report.

According to the report’s executive summary, while the attractiveness of pursuing higher education continues to increase, accessibility remains significantly low as the admissions process for UCs and CSUs has moved in a new, more competitive direction.

Kainath Kamil, a first-year psychobiology student, said the hardest part of the college application process was figuring out what to include in her essays. Kamil said she didn’t know which activities to prioritize and tried to adapt to the characteristics and activities that each school valued.

To accommodate the ambiguity of the admissions process, Kamil said his school offers a college admissions seminar to guide students through essay writing and the admissions process as a whole. Despite this additional guidance, Kamil said she was still unsure of what she should highlight in her application, leaving many of her questions unanswered.

Kamil also said that these resources are not a baseline for all high school students, which makes the admissions process even more difficult.

“The school I went to in high school was from a privileged area and everything was college-centric,” Kamil said. “We talked about colleges, people (wore) college shirts everywhere, took a lot of AP classes.”

Accessibility is one of the topics of concern to the UC student association. In the past, UCSA has worked on securing the Cal Grant Reform Act and has offered equity campaigns for students.

Joshua Lewis, president of the UC student union and a fourth-year political science and government student at UC Berkeley, said a program to counter this problem is Academic and pedagogical preparation of students Partnerships, a portfolio of 13 educational programs that aim to reduce disparities in access to college from kindergarten through high school.

Lewis said SAPEP received significant state funding because of student activism.

“A tangible outcome of the project is to improve the ability of underrepresented minorities to access pre-application assistance and increase retention for college graduation,” Lewis said.

Lewis also noted that UC will face this enrollment trade-off – to increase enrollment but maintain the quality of education.

The report recommends revising eligibility requirements under California’s Higher Education Blueprint, ensuring that students in the top 15% of high school graduates are eligible for admission to UC; for UHC, the top 40%.

Additionally, the report calls for the formation of a Higher Education Coordinating Body that would be responsible for ensuring that 60% of Californians obtain a high-value degree or certificate.

“It’s an ongoing fight. It’s hard to say the deliverables are certain because I don’t think we’d ever get to a point where we’re just happy with it,” Lewis said. “So there’s no no real end point that I can point to when we’d be happy, but those are some of the things that we’ve done and (continue) to do that have been really productive for the state.”


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