EDUCATION

Should race be a factor in college admissions?

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With affirmative action outlawed, Asian American students have dominated admissions. The freshman class admitted to UC Berkeley this coming fall is 30 percent white and 46 percent Asian, according to newly released data.

The share of admitted Asians is four times higher than their percentage in the state's K-12 public schools. But traditionally underrepresented Hispanic and black students remain so.

In a state where Latinos make up half the K-12 public school population, only 15 percent of the Berkeley students are Hispanic. And the freshman class is less than 4 percent African Americans, although they make up 7 percent of the K-12 students.

Junior Magali Flores, 20, said she experienced culture shock when she arrived on the Berkeley campus in 2009 after graduating from a predominantly Latino high school in Los Angeles.

Flores, one of five children of working-class parents from Mexico, said she feels the university can feel hostile to students of color, causing some to leave because they don't feel welcome at Berkeley.

"We want to see more of our people on campus," Flores said. "With diversity, more people would be tolerant and understanding of different ethnicities, different cultures."

UC Berkeley has tried to bolster diversity by expanding outreach to high schools in poor neighborhoods and considering applicants' achievements in light of the academic opportunities available to them.

But officials say it's hard to find large numbers of underrepresented minorities competitive enough for Berkeley, where only about one in five applicants are offered spots in the freshman class.

In addition, California's highest-achieving minority students are heavily recruited by top private colleges that practice affirmative action and offer scholarships to minorities, administrators say.

"It's frustrating," said Harry Le Grande, vice chancellor of student affairs at Berkeley. "Many times we lose them to elite privates that can actually take race into account when they admit students."

Backers say affirmative-action policies are needed to combat the legacy of racial discrimination and level the playing field for minorities who are more likely to attend inferior high schools.

Colleges benefit from diverse student bodies, and minority students often become leaders in their communities after graduating from top colleges.

"It's critical that our most selective institutions that look at least somewhat like the rest of our society," Nassirian said.

Ward Connerly, an African-American businessman who has led a national campaign against affirmative action, sees the practice as a form of racial discrimination.

"I don't believe in proportionality," said Connerly, who heads the American Civil Rights Institute. "The taxpayers have a right to say that we want every kid to be treated without regard to race, color, creed or national origin."

Connerly became wary of UC's efforts to admit more underrepresented minorities when he was a university regent in the 1990s.

He pushed the board to bar UC from considering race in school admissions in early 1996 before he helped qualify Proposition 209 for the ballot that year.

"I looked at the extent of our diversity efforts and I concluded we were a lawsuit waiting to happen," Connerly said. "There was a very clear view that we had to be concerned about the growing Asian influence at the University of California."

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