Drop in UC, CSU minority students leads to proposal
Beige Luciano-Adams, Staff Writer
Created: 07/09/2011 10:23:32 PM PDT

A bill that would allow public universities to factor race, ethnicity, gender and economic status into student admissions passed the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee last week by a 5-3 vote.

Authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, the purpose of Senate Bill 185 is to address a significant drop in minority enrollment at University of California and California State University campuses – particularly among Latinos and blacks – since the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.

Proposition 209 prohibits public institutions from considering students’ race, ethnicity, sex or other categories.

S.B. 185 would clarify whether the UC and CSU systems can consider these and other factors in an effort to recruit qualified students.

Hernandez’s bill seeks to square state law with a 2003 Supreme Court decision that the Constitution does not prohibit a law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions “to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

“I’m a product of affirmative action,” Hernandez said last week, recalling his graduate recruitment at an out-of-state university and his decision to return home to his own predominantly Latino community in La Puente to practice as an optometrist.

Hernandez said he would like to see voters take a second look at Proposition 209 – but stressed that S.B. 185 does not change 209. It would not allow universities to use quotas or preferential treatment, he said.

“This is already in statute,” Hernandez said, pointing to a section of the education code that describes an intent to enroll a student body at CSU and UC schools that “meets high academic standards and reflects the cultural, racial, geographic, economic and social diversity of California.”

Specifically, S.B. 185 would allow UC and require CSU to consider geographic origin, household income, race, gender, ethnicity, national origin and other “relevant factors” in undergraduate and graduate admissions.

According to Hernandez, prior to the passage of Proposition 209, underrepresented minority students accounted for 38percent of California high school graduates and 21percent of entering UC fresh men – a difference of 17percent.

In 2004, they made up 45percent of high school gradu ates but had fallen to 18percent of incoming freshmen – a difference of 27percent.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, voted against the measure, citing in part its conflict with Proposition 209.

“I think that the idea of using someone’s race, ethnicity or national origin or geo graphic location as a basis for deciding whether or not they will be admitted to a public university really goes against almost every American princi ple there is,” said Donnelly, a Republican who represents the 59th District, which includes La Verne and Claremont.

Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairman Marty Block said he initially had con cerns about a potential conflict with Proposition 209.

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