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Spot the differences: changes to the UC application process

By Serena Atkinson Oct. 14, 2020

Jessica Lin Art

Although nearly 25 years have elapsed since the adoption of Prop. 209, Calif. still remains divided over the issue of affirmative action. Ratified in 1996, Prop. 209 has prevented the state’s public employers and institutions from considering race and gender when reviewing applications. However, recently, new measures have been proposed to change the college application systems in Calif.: Prop. 16 and the elimination of standardized tests.

Endorsed by many state politicians after the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, Prop. 16 will appear on Calif.’s general election ballot. If passed, it would reallow affirmative action in public universities. However, this would only be an option and would not be mandatory, nor require universities to meet specific racial quotas.

Prop. 209 originally intended to provide applicants with equal opportunities by considering only students’ merit. The Washington Post reports that although the system considered socioeconomic status under Prop. 209 to promote equality, Black and Latino students were still underserved: their admission rates to UCs declined by 15 percent after the passage of Prop. 209, according to a study from Duke University.

“Prop. 16 has good intentions because it will give minorities more chances to get into higher education. Affirmative action would create a more diverse community in higher education; but, not regarding Asians as an underrepresented minority because of their presence in the UC system and the large Asian population in Calif. could be discriminatory,” Senior Megan Lee said.

However, the change in the status of affirmative action is not the only difference in the UC application system. In September., Judge Brad Seligman ruled that the UCs cannot consider applicants’ Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) scores. Although the UC Board of Regents voted to waive testing requirements until 2024, the court ruling now prohibits UCs from going test-optional as well. USA Today reports that even test-optional would be unfair since standardized tests are less accessible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and students who are unable to submit test scores would be be at a disadvantage compared to students who are able to.

Apart from the pandemic, Seligman was concerned that requiring standardized test scores was unfair to disabled students who are unable to take standardized tests due to the lack of accommodations. Furthermore, Mark Rosenbaum, director of law firm Public Counsel’s project Opportunity Under Law, told USA Today that considering standardized test scores discriminates against underrepresented groups since they often have less opportunities, such as how many low-income students cannot afford to take the SAT or ACT numerous times.

However, Seligman’s decision has also faced criticism. For instance, the Bloomberg editorial board argued that, instead of eliminating standardized tests in college applications, UCs should emphasize financial aid opportunities for low-income applicants and prohibit applicants from superscoring their test scores to prevent advantages for students who can afford to take the SAT or ACT numerous times. UC Academic Senate Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani told the Los Angeles Times that standardized testing is necessary for underrepresented students because the test scores actually make applications more holistic as admissions officers adjust applicants’ test scores based on their socioeconomic status.

“I mostly support the decision, as the SAT has been unfair to low-income students. However, in terms of how this will affect college admissions, public universities might now place more priority and emphasis on students’ essays and extracurriculars in order to distinguish applicants from one another,” Senior Smit Ahir said.


About the Contributors

Serena Atkinson

Staff Writer

Serena is a senior and this is her third year as a staff writer. She likes the Clash, kitchen-sink drama films, and looking at birds that are in her backyard.

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