Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

Access to Quality Education

Access to Participation in California's Public Universities

Although, for fiscal purposes, public postsecondary education does not enjoy the same constitutional guarantees as the public schools, access to postsecondary education is essential to sustaining the economic vitality of California, as well as to the future social and cultural wellbeing of the state. A commitment to that access undergirds the current structure of California's public postsecondary education system, which provides near universal access to any Californian who desires instruction. This Master Plan reaffirms that commitment, while simultaneously restating the State's commitment to opening the doors of academic and economic opportunity wider than ever before at the postsecondary level.

Recommendation 12

The California State University and University of California systems should continue to adhere to the policy of guaranteeing that all students who apply for freshman admission and who are eligible to attend (students within the top one-third, in the case of California State University applicants, and the top one-eighth, in the case of University of California applicants) are offered admission to the system(s) for which they are eligible and have applied. Community colleges should continue to be open to all high school graduates and adults who can benefit from postsecondary instruction.

Since the adoption of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, both the California State University and University of California systems have selected their freshman students from restrictive pools of high school graduates statewide. Each system has respective authority to determine how the top one-third and one-eighth are defined for purposes of admission. Objective criteria - curricular pattern, grade point average, and standardized test scores - have served as the primary basis for determining eligibility. Based on these criteria, the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees each has an adopted policy guaranteeing admission to any eligible high school graduate who applies.

While these criteria and board policies have made the selection processes relatively simple for both systems, they, in conjunction with the impact of California's population growth and the popularity of the two systems, have resulted in two unfortunate consequences. First, as the number of graduates from California high schools has increased and they have sought admission to the California State University and the University of California in numbers that have exceeded the capacity at some campuses and the State's ability to financially support both systems overall, admissions criteria have been revised to reduce the numbers of qualified high school graduates entitled to admission. In addition, both the California State University and University of California systems have assigned greater weight to grades earned in honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, a practice that provides a substantial advantage to graduates of high schools that provide significant numbers of honors and AP courses to their students.

Second, students enrolled in schools with high concentrations of students from low-income families have not had opportunities to learn that are comparable to those of students enrolled in schools serving more advantaged families. In particular, they have had fewer opportunities to take and complete AP courses prior to graduation. Consequently, low-income high school graduates who have attained California State University and University of California eligibility have not had the opportunity to become 'highly competitive' for admission to either sector.

In response to the University of California's practice of giving preference to highly competitive applicants, increasing numbers of high schools are offering AP courses taught by teachers without adequate expertise, enrolling students without a solid academic foundation to increase their likelihood of success, and without requiring that students completing AP courses also take the AP examinations for these subjects. There is further concern that assigning additional weight to honors and AP courses tends to undermine the effort of this Master Plan to increase the rigor of all academic course offerings in public schools by communicating to students who are firmly committed to college attendance after high school that getting into the campus or system of their choice is enhanced by taking AP and honors courses. Such students can, and should, still be encouraged to take and complete AP courses by continuing the existing practice of granting college course credit for high scores earned on AP examinations. The Joint Committee endorses continued efforts to encourage students to challenge themselves by taking rigorous honors-level courses. However, such efforts should emphasize enhanced likelihood of future success and opportunities to accelerate progress through college, rather than opportunities to attain inflated grade point averages.

Definitions of quality that rely exclusively on test scores and grade point averages fail to recognize and take advantage of the rich diversity of California's people. Our colleges and universities must not fail to take advantage of this richness as they make admissions decisions, by failing to examine the human qualities of applicants who have met objective criteria for admission. The life experiences of prospective students who have come to California from around the world, including languages, cultural traditions, music, art, and work experiences, can enhance the teaching and learning experiences on every California State University and University of California campus and contribute to students' developing a world view attainable for most of them in few other.

The value that diversity can contribute to the quality of the California State University and the University of California is of such import that these life experiences and non-cognitive talents should be considered equally with objective measures of academic achievement, even when demand greatly exceeds capacity. No campus should deprive its students of these components of quality in a mistaken effort to ration limited capacity by allocating admission slots primarily to applicants with the highest test scores and grade point averages.

Given the foregoing concerns, we additionally recommend:

Recommendation 12.1

The California State University and University of California systems should continue collaborating with K-12 schools to increase the rigor of all academic courses, to achieve the goals of reducing demand for remedial instruction among freshman students and eliminating the current practice of providing additional weight to honors and AP courses in GPA calculations during the admissions process.

Recommendation 12.2

The governing boards of the California State University and the University of California should authorize each of their campuses to consider both objective and qualitative personal characteristics equally, when assembling each year's freshman classes annually from among the pool of eligible candidates.

Recommendation 12.3

The California State University and University of California systems should continue to be authorized to admit up to eight percent and six percent, respectively, of their new undergraduates annually through the use of non-traditional criteria.