This year marks a “historic shift” for the University of California (UC) system, as it prepares to welcome its largest-ever number of Latinx first-year students and overall most diverse incoming class, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to a press release from the UC Office of the President, Chicanx/Latinx students for the first time make up the largest ethnic group of admitted students, accounting for 36 percent of admitted freshmen, up 2 percentage points from last year. Asian American students make up 35 percent of the incoming student population, while white students constitute 21 percent of admitted freshmen.
The UC data—which reflects offers made as of June 23—also show that 44 percent of the newly admitted students come from low-income backgrounds, and 45 percent are first-generation college students. The number of offers extended to students from underrepresented communities rose 16 percent this year. The system also admitted 28,074 transfer students, a 5 percent increase from last year, including the most ever from the state’s community colleges system. Overall, the UC system offered admission to 119,054 incoming freshmen—a record number, up from 108,178 last year.
The data remain preliminary, and UC likely won’t have its final enrollment numbers for several months. “This has been an incredibly challenging time as many students have been making their college decision in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic” said Janet Napolitano, president of the UC system. “UC continues to see increased admissions of underrepresented students as we seek to educate a diverse student body of future leaders. The incoming class will be one of our most talented and diverse yet, and UC is proud to invite them to join us.”
Report underlines widespread need for stronger Black, Latinx student representation
A new report from The Education Trust helps put the UC updates in perspective, revealing that students of color are still not adequately represented at the nation’s most selective public colleges and universities. The report, titled “Segregation Forever?,” looks at how well the undergraduate student bodies at 101 institutions represent the diversity of their state’s population, saying the findings underscore the need to improve access, and not just completion, for underrepresented groups. Of the 101 public colleges and universities studied, more than 75 percent received a failing grade for their Black student representation. Across the last two decades, the proportion of Black students had fallen at almost 60 percent of the institutions.
“When you look at access for Black students, by and large the data are awful,” said Andrew Nichols, senior director of higher education research and data analytics at The Education Trust and author of the report. Similarly, nearly half of the colleges examined in the study received an F for Latinx student representation. “If access is limited to these institutions, we’re disproportionately providing opportunities to wealthier white students,” Nichols told Inside Higher Ed.
The report includes several recommendations for improving representation at selective public colleges, such as increasing students’ access to guidance counselors, increasing aid to Black and Latinx students, rescinding state bans on affirmative action, and using race to a larger extent in admissions decisions.
UC Berkeley taking steps to improve representation, campus climate for Black students
The UC system, which has campuses featured in the report, is working to combat underrepresentation and reverse systemic barriers. Currently, the UC system is restricted by the state from considering race or ethnicity during the admission decision process, but campuses are making a concerted effort to increase outreach and students’ sense of belonging. Californians will vote this November on whether to reinstate affirmative action, which could impact admission and hiring decisions
UC Berkeley—“known for having the worst campus climate for Black students in the University of California system,” according to the Los Angeles Times—has especially intensified its push to improve diversity and confront anti-Blackness and other forms of racism. The efforts have taken on even greater urgency amid the recent killings of George Floyd and other Black men and women across the country.
“The most important thing is creating a campus in which everybody feels that they belong, that they’re valued, that they’re respected and that they’re heard,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol L. Christ told the Los Angeles Times.
A significant drop in California’s Black resident population during the 1990s and the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action, contributed to adverse race relations on Berkeley’s campus. The Black student population at UC Berkeley fell from 7.4 percent of undergraduates in 1989 to just over 3 percent in 2016.
Last year, a study by the USC Race and Equity Center ranked Berkeley last in equity among UC’s nine campuses based on four factors: Black student-faculty ratio, gender diversity, numerical representation, and Black student graduation rate. Moreover, in a 2018 undergraduate student survey, 58 percent of Black students at Berkeley said they felt their race was disrespected—the highest percentage across all UC campuses.
The university’s office of undergraduate admissions has responded by “doubl[ing] down” on partnerships with Black community organizations and high school counselors to expand diverse recruitment efforts. Berkeley also has launched a philanthropically funded scholarship program for Black students, established a Black Resource Center, and worked to hire more faculty of color. This year, the Los Angeles Times notes, UC Berkeley accepted “the largest number of Black and Latino students in three decades, more than a 40 percent increase over last year.” Black students accounted for 5 percent of those admitted to UC Berkeley; Black students make up 5.3 percent of California high school graduates.
The only way to fight the narrative that Berkeley is not a welcoming environment for Black students “is to get into those communities,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Undergraduate Admissions Femi Ogundele, “and let them know that not only are you good enough but we are actively looking for you.”