Regents approve eligibility changes

    After three hours of emotional debate, the UC Board of Regents voted in favor of tightening eligibility requirements for students applying to the university. The decision marked the first time in more than two decades that the regents cut the number of students who meet the university’s minimum standards.

    Under the plan, which will first affect students entering the university in the fall of 2007, high school seniors will need a minimum GPA of 3.0 to be guaranteed a spot on a UC campus, up from the current minimum of 2.8.

    The 16-4 vote in favor of the plan came more than two months after the regents first took up the issue in July. They postponed the final decision after critics questioned the statistics behind the proposal and charged that it would disproportionately hurt underrepresented students.

    “There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal will have long-term adverse implications for many students,” said Jack O’Connell, the state’s superintendent of education and an ex- officio regent. “This is another hurdle that we’re going to be putting [in front] of these students; it’s another roadblock for opportunity.”

    Two other ex-officio members of the board, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and State Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, also opposed the plan. Both argued that the new rules, which the university estimates will remove 750 students from the UC eligibility pool, would disproportionately hurt ethnic minorities, poor students and rural schools — groups which are already underrepresented at the system’s campuses.

    Black students will feel the most severe impact under the new rules, as more than one out of every five currently eligible students will lose their ability to apply to the university as a combined result of eligibility changes passed over the last two months.

    However, faculty members who crafted the proposal said it represented the most equitable solution out of the more than 200 considered by their committee.

    “Student access to the University of California is crucial to the future of the state, and tightening our eligibility standards is a difficult thing to do,” said George Blumenthal, chair of the systemwide Academic Council. “Our faculty worked in a very committed fashion to develop a plan that would emphasize academic achievement in high school, have the least negative impact on any one demographic group and provide adequate notice of the changes to students.”

    The regents first asked the faculty in May to find ways to cut the number of eligible students after a statewide report found that nearly 14.4 percent of seniors met the university’s minimum requirements. Under the 1960 Master Plan of Education, a blueprint for the state’s higher education system, the university is supposed to choose students from the top eighth of each year’s graduating class. However, critics have questioned the accuracy of the study, pointing to its large margin of error.

    Under “procedural changes” the regents approved in July, the number of eligible students fell to 13 percent. With the new GPA requirements, the university expects the number to fall to 12.8 percent, still slightly above the Master Plan level.

    The changes originally proposed would have raised the minimum GPA to 3.1, but the regents scrapped the plan for fear that they might “overshoot” their 12.5 percent goal and turn away too many students.

    The board’s unwillingness to reduce the number all the way to the Master Plan level of 12.5 percent angered Regent John J. Moores, who spoke out in frustration about the time needed to implement the changes and the inability of faculty members to estimate the exact effect of the rule changes.

    “We have, unfortunately, a long history in this room of voting on stuff without complete information,” Moores said. “I think we ought to know exactly what we’re going to vote on.”

    Regent Frederick Ruiz, the newest member of the board, who Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed in July, opposed the stricter grade requirement and its expected effect on minorities.

    “I’m really not in favor of raising [the] GPA,” Ruiz said. “I think it would be an enormous mistake.”

    However, many regents said the university could not afford to accept more students while the state continued to cut its financial support.

    “I think that there is an elephant in the room that no one is talking about, which is the money that we have to run the university,” Regent Shelly L. Lansing said. “We are in this position because we don’t have the money.”

    Students in the audience, including members of the UC Student Association, spoke out against the proposal and at times cheered loudly during the debate, earning several rebukes from the board’s secretary.

    The speakers also included A.S. President Jennifer Pae, who traveled to the San Francisco meeting to express concerns about the plan. She was accompanied by Vice President External Rigo Marquez.

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