Looking @ the big picture

On Nov. 15, the UC Regents passed the “”comprehensive review”” policy, applicable to incoming applicants in fall 2002. Endorsed by the Academic Senate, UC admissions policy will change from being a “”two-tiered”” process to “”comprehensive review,”” which means that all students will now be evaluated holistically on their academic and nonacademic achievements.

Comprehensive review is expected to enhance campus selectivity, diversity and livelihood by changing the makeup of the students admitted.

Many critics say that comprehensive review will lower the standards for academic excellence, and that it is a shameless last grasp for something similar to affirmative action. Both assumptions are wrong and have been made from a surface evaluation of what comprehensive review actually means.

It is important to note that UC President Richard C. Atkinson said the only change that will occur is “”that all the selection criteria will now be available for campuses to use in selecting all their students, rather than a subset of them.”” No eligibility requirements or criteria will change. All students have to take the same coursework and be evaluated by the same UC numerical eligibility index.

The UC admissions process is currently two-tiered: Students in the first tier are admitted to a UC school solely on their academic history and achievements alone.

Comprehensive review makes up the other half of the UC admissions process. The second tier of students is evaluated on the basis of 14 other criteria, taking into account aspects such as class rank, quality of education, marked improvements, special talents, awards, etc., in addition to GPA and standardized test scores.

Comprehensive review allows for a more diverse student population in background, experiences and interests — in addition, of course, to strong academic performance. It aims to fill UC campuses with more well-rounded students, active and dynamic proponents of campus life and representation.

So what if not everyone will have a 4.4 GPA? That doesn’t mean that such students will not be strong contributors to the quality of campus life and academics.

According to Atkinson, comprehensive review seeks “”thoroughly qualified students who demonstrate the promise to make great contributions to the university community and to the larger society beyond.”” He added, “”We believe this policy sends a strong signal that UC is looking for students who have achieved at high levels and, in doing so, have challenged themselves to the greatest extent possible.””

When admissions officers evaluate an applicant now, not only will they look at grades and scores to predict a student’s potential contributions, they will also look at other qualities such as leadership, motivation and initiative. Considering these factors on top of academia has always been a major part of other top schools’ admission policies.

Comprehensive review of all incoming applicants is used by many of the country’s most elite and selective private and public universities such as Stanford, Harvard and Yale. In that company, comprehensive review cannot be all that bad for setting an academic standard.

If it is equality that concerns people, implementing full comprehensive review for all applications will make the admission process as fair at it has ever been. The old, two-tiered system is, in actuality, unfair: It gauged the achievements of potential students unequally based upon either past academic achievement or criteria such as extracurricular activities and relative achievements.

How can the old system be considered fair when two groups of students are judged on two different sets of criteria — especially when the student does not know under which set he is being evaluated?

If the current system were left intact, it is obvious that first-tier students would be valued much more than second-tier students, and what would be left would be a caste-like system, unequal as ever.

Under the comprehensive review system, all applicants will be reviewed under one set of criteria. Prospective students and families will have the comfort of knowing that they will be evaluated on everything that they put down on their application, not just parts of it.

While it is of vital concern to most that some students who would have been admitted through the old process will not be admitted in the new, and students who would not have been admitted will now find themselves in the UC system, the odds of that happening are relatively small. According to a study based on a simulation done at UC Berkeley, only 4 percent of would-be admits in the old system would be denied in the new system. Furthermore, the study found that the overall academic strength of the admitted class, as measured by traditional academic criteria, increased under the proposed comprehensive review system.

How would this benefit a school like UCSD? Be honest: How many times have you thought, “”Our campus is too bland, too quiet?”” Under comprehensive review, UCSD would see an influx of students who are more than just their GPAs and S.A.T. scores, and who would have more to offer than boosting UCSD’s academic average. UCSD students would not only see an increase in scholastic competitiveness, but also a more diverse campus, a more proactive and enthusiastic student body, and maybe a little more school spirit.

Although comprehensive review, like most things, will take some adjustment and will undoubtedly gain some critics, it will ultimately gauge incoming students more fairly, making an individual more than just a 1300 or 4-point-something. It will encourage prospective students to branch out of their books and understand that while scores and grades are, indeed, important, they alone will not substantiate a thorough education and college experience.

The University of California’s decision demonstrates a definitive stand on the students it wants. It is certainly clear that its administrators believe students with a wide range of gifts to offer are those who will find success in the UC system.