California Legislature to increase oversight of college admissions

Maya Valluru/Staff

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Laws that will regulate admissions to California colleges and universities are going into effect this year.

The laws are part of the state Assembly’s College Admissions Reform package, a set of legislation intended to address issues brought to public attention in the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, also called “Operation Varsity Blues.”

AB 697, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, will go into full effect on June 30 and requires that California colleges and universities report to the Legislature on any preferential admission of applicants related to donors or alumni.

“We must strive for a level playing field in the college admissions process, so there can be equal opportunity for all,” Ting said in a press release. “We should know how prevalent donor and alumni-based preferential treatment is in California, so we can compare that to the amount of state-funded benefits, like CalGrants, flowing toward the school.”

AB 1383, introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, addresses the admission of students who do not meet a school’s eligibility requirements. Under the law, which will take effect at the beginning of the next school year, any such admission by exception must be approved by at least three senior campus administrators. The law makes an exception for students admitted to educational opportunity programs. The UC system has also been working on its own policies regarding admissions. The scandal in 2019 implicated a student admitted to campus after his father allegedly paid a test-taker to sit for the SAT on his behalf.

In response to these allegations, the UC system implemented an audit in June 2019 reviewing admissions procedures and instituted new admissions protocols to prevent fraud. These protocols include improved oversight of admissions based on special talents or athletics and monitoring of donations to prevent bribery.

According to Varsha Sarveshwar, ASUC External Affairs Vice President, the legislation will most likely not have a major impact on admissions to UC Berkeley or other UC campuses because the UC Office of the President, or UCOP,  already has strong procedures to handle admissions by exception and does not practice legacy admissions. This was confirmed by Sarah McBride, a UCOP spokesperson.

As the preeminent public higher education institution, we hold ourselves to the highest standards and have been taking proactive steps to strengthen our admissions practices and procedures, including admission by exception,” McBride said in an email.

Sarveshwar said in an email, however, that she still feels that the UC admissions practices “systematically select for more affluent students” as well as disadvantage Black, Latinx and Native applicants, particularly because of Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in the 1990s.

“These two pieces of legislation are important, and AB 1383 will help ensure that student athletes at UC are only admitted through merit,” Sarveshwar said in the email. “That is undoubtedly important. However they do not address the biggest, most pressing issues facing UC admissions today.”

Alexandra Feldman the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.