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February 15, 1999

Admissions proposal aims to encourage high school students to stay on track

By Jennifer McNulty

In an effort to boost enrollments and encourage high school students to aim high, the University of California is considering a proposal to notify the state's top 4 percent of juniors that they appear to be "on track" to attend a UC campus if they keep up the good work.

The proposal would have the greatest impact on students from high schools that typically send few, if any, students to UC campuses, said Stanley Williamson, a professor emeritus of chemistry at UCSC and the campus's representative to the systemwide faculty committee that sets UC admissions requirements. It would also help the university reach its state mandate of admitting the top 12.5 percent of the state's eligible high school graduates; just over 11 percent now meet eligibility requirements.

Students at high schools in rural or low-income urban areas are less likely to prepare for college than students in other areas, and the news that they are in the top 4 percent of their class might motivate them to consider applying to a UC campus, said Williamson, who helped draft the proposal as a member of the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), the group of 11 faculty representatives charged with setting UC's admissions requirements.

If approved, the so-called "4 percent plan" mandates that the top 4 percent of students at each of the state's nearly 800 accredited high schools would receive a letter from UC at the end of their junior year, noting that the student appears to be "on track" to be eligible to attend UC, having met all applicable course and test requirements. If the student stays the course during the senior year, he or she will indeed be eligible for admission to UC.

The proposal will be considered by the Committee on Educational Policy at the UC Regents' meeting on February 19. Although it has been described in some media reports as an attempt to increase diversity on UC campuses, UCSC officials clarified that the proposal has less to do with diversity than simply sending a message to the state's top students.

"What we'd be saying to students is that if you meet the requirements, there will be a place for you at the University of California," said Michael Thompson, associate vice chancellor for outreach, admissions, and student academic services at UCSC. "Not all students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds aspire to attend UC. They may be successful if they came, but many don't even think of it. We're seeking to raise the aspirations of these students."

Analysts agree that, if approved, the change would be "race neutral." As Williamson points out, the faculty committee that drafted the proposal was hoping to reach out to students who are already eligible for admission but who do not choose to apply to UC. Thompson said the overall impact at UCSC could be slightly greater competition for a spot at a campus where applications have been on the rise for three consecutive years.

Most students who are at the top of their class during their junior year are aware of their performance, but a good number of students fall prey to "senioritis" and are unable to maintain their good work through to graduation, said Williamson. For those students, and for others who might not be aware of their position, the letter of congratulations from UC could be key.

"The number of students that would be affected is small, but it may influence a slightly different mix of students," said Williamson. "It's an experiment, and it has its pitfalls."

One drawback is that the protocol for identifying and notifying the top 4 percent of students has yet to be worked out, said Williamson, conceding that the proposal might amount to a "tedious process that may fall under its own bureaucratic weight."

But contacting students at the end of their junior year--about four months earlier than the opening of the application period--could slightly improve the quality of students applying for admission to UC, he noted.

If approved by the Regents' committee later this month, the 4 percent proposal will be considered by the full Board of Regents at their March 19-20 meeting at UC San Francisco. If approved, it would take effect as of fall 2001, and the first batch of letters would go out this spring.

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