Regents Vote to Change UC Admissions Policy

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What is holistic review?

University News Editor Emma Anderson and Lead Higher Education Reporter Jordan Bach-Lombardo explore a new policy change called "holistic review" for future students applying to the UC's.

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The UC Board of Regents unanimously voted to approve a systemwide change in admissions policy at their Jan. 20 meeting, ensuring that all applications are reviewed in their entirety by a human reader.

The argument for the switch from a non-holistic comprehensive review - through which a computer formula reviews the entire application - to a human-read holistic method is that it would benefit the applicant by not reducing the applicant's profile to hard numbers. Rather, the holistic human read expands an applicant's profile beyond test scores and GPA to consider other environmental factors.

All UC campuses currently employ the non-holistic method, except UC Berkeley and UCLA, though some employ the holistic review in certain cases.

"Students have been asking for and fighting for holistic admissions for years (and) this process is endorsed by one of the most important stakeholders in this process: the applicant," said Student Regent Jesse Cheng. "(Holistic review) is the very essence of fairness."

Holistic review - which is already used by six out of the eight universities to which the UC generally compares itself - allows campuses to make a more precise decision about a student, particularly those on the cusp of admission, said UC Provost Lawrence Pitts at the meeting.

"Holistic review is most important in the students where they are very close together and you're trying to pick and choose a subset that you want to offer admission to a group that looks on the surface fairly similar," he said. "That's where holistic review, we believe, is the fairest evaluation for selection of the most appropriate students."

The proposal passed by a unanimous vote despite vigorous questioning of the switch - which Pitts said would be "time-consuming" and "expensive" - at the meeting, especially regarding the fiscal prudency of requiring campuses to employ a more expensive form of application review in a time of severe funding reductions systemwide.

Although the UC Office of the President has not yet discerned exactly how much the switch would cost campuses, it expects current application fee levels to cover the cost, according to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez.

Robert Anderson, UC Berkeley professor of math and economics and vice chair of the systemwide Academic Senate - which endorsed the proposal - said the consequence for executing the switch with anything less than a full commitment would degrade the admissions process.

Regent Richard Blum said standardization across campuses in selection criteria posed a significant obstacle.

"I can't for the life of me see how you're going to be consistent - it's judgmental," he said.

But George Johnson, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and chair of the senate Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, which oversees matters on undergraduate admissions, said the switch will not prevent individual campuses from using unique admissions practices. For example, UC Santa Barbara views applicants as eligible in their local context, comparing students within their own high schools rather than across the state applicant pool. This allows the campus to admit students from around the state without a rigid metric.

"The proposal that was passed has some language to the effect (that) campus processes can still be applied as long as they are able to show that they meet campus goals and criteria," he said. "If somebody is just thinking holistic review means the Berkeley or LA approaches, they would be missing some very important ways of doing the admissions process."


Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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