Monday, April 27, 2009

University of Calif. admissions rule angers Asian-Americans

A new admissions policy set to take effect at the University of California system in three years is raising fears among Asian-Americans that it will reduce their numbers on campus, where they account for a remarkable 40% of all undergraduates. University officials say the new standards — the biggest change in UC admissions since 1960 — are intended to widen the pool of high school applicants and make the process more fair.

But Asian-American advocates, parents and lawmakers are angrily calling on the university to rescind the policy, which will apply at all nine of the system's undergraduate campuses.

They point to a UC projection that said the new standards would sharply reduce Asian-American admissions while resulting in little change for blacks and Hispanics, and a big gain for white students. "I like to call it affirmative action for whites," said Ling-chi Wang, a retired professor at UC Berkeley. "I think it's extremely unfair to Asian-Americans on the one hand and underrepresented minorities on the other."

Asian-Americans are the single largest ethnic group among UC's 173,000 undergraduates. In 2008, they accounted for 40% at UCLA and 43% at UC Berkeley — the two most selective campuses in the UC system — as well as 50% at UC San Diego and 54% at UC Irvine. Asian-Americans are about 12% of California's population and 4% of the U.S. population overall.

The new policy, approved unanimously by the UC Board of Regents in February, will greatly expand the applicant pool, eliminate the requirement that applicants take two SAT subject tests and reduce the number of students guaranteed admission based on grades and test scores alone. It takes effect for the freshman class of fall 2012.

Some Asian-Americans have charged that the university is trying to reduce Asian-American enrollment. Others say that may not be the intent, but it will be the result.

UC officials adamantly deny the intent is to increase racial diversity, and reject allegations the policy would violate a 1996 voter-approved ban on affirmative action. "The primary goal is fairness and eliminating barriers that seem unnecessary," UC President Mark Yudof said. "It means that if you're a parent out there, more of your sons' and daughters' files will be reviewed."

Yudof and other officials disputed the internal study that projected a drop of about 20% in Asian-American admissions, saying it is impossible to accurately predict the effects. "This is not Armageddon for Asian-American students," Yudoff said.

At San Francisco's Lowell High School, one of the top public schools in the country, about 70% of the students are of Asian descent and more than 40% attend UC after graduation. "If there are Asian-Americans who are qualified and don't get into UC because they're trying to increase diversity, then I think that's unfair," said 16-year-old junior Jessica Peng. "I think that UC is lowering its standards by doing that."

Doug Chan, who has a teenage son at Lowell, said: "Parents are very skeptical and suspicious that this is yet another attempt to move the goalposts or change the rules of the game for Asian college applicants."

One of the biggest changes is scrapping the requirement that applicants take two SAT subject tests. UC officials say the tests do little to predict who will succeed at UC, no other public university requires them, and many high-achieving students are disqualified because they do not take them.

The policy also widens the pool of candidates by allowing applications from all students who complete the required high school courses, take the main SAT or ACT exams and maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. Under the current policy, students have to rank in the top 12.5% of California high school graduates to be eligible.

Students still have to apply to individual campuses, where admissions officers are allowed to consider each applicants' grades, test scores, personal background, extracurricular activities and other factors but not race.

The policy is expected to increase competition for UC admission. This year the university turned away the largest number of students in years after it received a record number applications and cut freshman enrollment because of the state's budget crisis.

"I'm getting all sorts of e-mails from parents, alumni and donors who are quite upset by the action UC took," said state Assemblyman Ted Lieu, chairman of the Legislature's 11-member Asian-American caucus.


Teach for (Some of) America

Too talented for public schools

Here's a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation's top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

If you've spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America -- the privately funded program that sends college grads into America's poorest school districts for two years -- received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year's applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of Teach for America teachers they will accept, typically between 10% and 30% of new hires. In the Washington area, that number is about 25% to 30%, but in Chicago, former home of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is an embarrassing 10%.

This is a tragic lost opportunity. Teach for America picks up the $20,000 tab for the recruitment and training of each teacher, which saves public money. More important, the program feeds high-energy, high-IQ talent into a teaching profession that desperately needs it. Unions claim the recent grads lack the proper experience and commitment to a teaching career. But the Urban Institute has studied the program and found that "TFA status more than offsets any experience effects. Disadvantaged secondary students would be better off with TFA teachers, especially in math and science, than with fully licensed in-field teachers with three or more years of experience."

It's true that only 10% of Teach for America applicants say they would have gone into education through another route, but two-thirds stay in the field after their two years. One program benefit is that its participants don't have to pass the dreadful "education" courses that have nothing to do with what they'll be teaching. Those courses are loved by unions as a credentialing barrier that makes it harder to get into teaching.

Some districts may be wising up. Mississippi's education superintendent has asked Teach for America to double the size of its 250-member corps in the poor Delta region and is encouraging local superintendents to raise hiring caps. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has also sharply increased the percentage of corps members among its new teachers, to 250.

But why have any caps? Teach for America young people should be able to compete on equal terms with any other new teaching applicant. The fact that they can't is another example of how unions and the education establishment put tenure and power above student achievement.


Rising fees and loans make British students ask whether higher education is worth it

Student debt is spiralling because of increasing tuition fees and the use of some commercial loans at very high rates, a report commissioned by the Government suggests.

More than half of the students questioned said that money worries had affected their academic performance. One in 12 full-time students had considered dropping out because of financial problems. Fewer students thought that higher education was worth the expense when their responses were compared with similar research conducted three years earlier.

Although the number who had jobs while taking their degree had decreased, it was still a popular choice. For many students it had a negative impact on their studies.

Researchers from the Institute of Employment Studies and the National Centre for Social Research interviewed more than 2,600 students about their finances for the Student Income and Expenditure Survey.

They said that the average debt in 2008 of students at the end of their first year was £3,500, compared with £2,400 three years earlier. The report said: “Some full-time students had borrowed from commercial or higher cost sources, such as commercial credit companies and via bank overdrafts. Where students had made use of these sources, the average amounts involved were substantial.”

The direct cost of going to university for first-year students had risen by almost 70 per cent between 2005 and 2008, the report found.

Students were deeper in debt than their predecessors, because they were less reliant on their families and more dependent on loans. This was particularly evident for students from working-class backgrounds.

Concerns about debt nearly stopped a quarter of full-time and almost a third of part-time students from going to university. The report said: “It is expected that students in their first or second year of study, under the new student finance system, will on average graduate with greater debt.

“One in three students said that the availability of funding and financial support affected their decisions about higher education.”

The researchers found that having a job was essential for many students to survive, but this came at a cost. They said: “Income from paid work was important for full-time students, representing 20 per cent of their total average income, and it was critical for part-time students. Half of part-time students and around one third of full-time students who worked during the academic year reported that this had affected their studies.”

Three quarters said that they had less time available to study and read, three fifths were more stressed and the same proportion said that the quality of their university work had suffered. Almost half were getting by on less sleep because of their paid work.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: “It is not acceptable that a third of students have to base their decisions about which university to attend or which course to study on the amount of financial support which will be available to them.

“We need a national bursary scheme, so that all financial support is based on how much a student needs it, not where they happen to be studying. We cannot leave this in the hands of individual institutions any longer.”

David Lammy, Minister for Higher Education, said: “Higher education remains one of the best pathways to a rewarding career, and it is good to see that students recognise it as a good investment for their future.

"We firmly believe that finance should never be a barrier to good education. This is why we continue to make generous loans and grants available to students.”