As the University of California attempts to increase the diversity of its undergraduate student body by including more Latinos and blacks without violating the terms laid out in Proposition 209 that eliminated affirmative action in California public institutions, a novel solution has been proposed: eliminate the SAT subject exams as an admissions requirement. Considering that UC has also attempted in the past to eliminate the more popular SAT reasoning test to much controversy, on the surface it appears to be an easy compromise since fewer students take the SAT subject exams anyway, saving them and their families time and money in preparing and studying for these exams.
However, the Journal of Higher Education reports that this would have an unintentional effect: significantly decreasing the numbers of Asian Americans admitted, increasing the number of white students, while making virtually no difference in the number of black and Latino admits. In a statement used to justify this shift in policy, UCSF epidemiologist Mary Croughan does a backhanded compliment to Asian Americans, essentially stating that if Asian American students hadn’t done so well in these exams, they wouldn’t be affected so much.
As someone who actually did benefit from UC’s affirmative action policy when I went to college in the early 1990s (at the time, Filipino Americans were the only Asian Americans to be considered for affirmative action in the UC system), I saw the immediate effects of what happened after 209 passed. At my school, UC Riverside, there was always a sizable cohort of Filipinos in my classes, but by the time I went to grad school at UC Santa Barbara, the numbers of Filipino undergraduates across all UCs decreased substantially. I wasn’t alone in this observation: a report noted that UC Berkeley’s law school admitted no Filipinos the year after Prop 209 passed. Also, applications to UC’s graduate and professional schools from blacks, Latinos and Filipinos also decreased significantly, and even now, this has not yet recovered to pre-209 levels.
At the same time, I believe that the affirmative action policy pre-209 was flawed. If the University of California had the time, resources and money, they would do better to take a look at socioeconomic status along with race and ethnicity, gender, etc., if they really wanted a more diverse student body, rather than just looking at test scores.
(Flickr photo credit: Bernt Rostad)