Study calls for end to ban on race-based admission to California universities

File photo: A new study from The Campaign for College Opportunity calls for an end to the ban on considering race and ethnicity in California university admissions.
File photo: A new study from The Campaign for College Opportunity calls for an end to the ban on considering race and ethnicity in California university admissions.
Courtesy University of California, Riverside

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To improve college attainment rates for African-Americans, California policymakers should overturn the standing ban on using race as a factor in public university admissions, say the authors of a study by The Campaign for College Opportunity released Thursday.

The Los Angeles-based nonprofit has called for overturning the ban previously. In a study released earlier this month showing continuing challenges with college attainment by Latinos, the group said it's time to overturn the prohibition on weighing race and ethnicity in college admissions.

Voters approved the ban in 1996 and it has stirred controversy over the years.

In one of the latest developments, Democrats proposed a bill in the state legislature that would lift the prohibition keeping the University of California and California State University campuses from considering race or ethnicity in admissions and recruitment.

The bill has angered some Asian-American groups that see it as potentially disadvantaging Asian students who could lose college spots to underrepresented minorities, including Latinos and African-Americans.

The study points to a slight drop in the percentage of black students enrolled at University of California campuses and a dramatic drop at UC Berkeley and UCLA since establishment of the race-based admission ban.

“To secure California’s economic future, action is needed now to significantly improve our education system for all Californians and specifically increase college enrollment and graduation among Black students,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.

There is some good news in the group's study: the state’s sizeable African-American population are more likely now to have a high school diploma and college degree than in 1990. But while 42 percent of working-age white residents in California have a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 23 percent of black adults have reached that level of college achievement. 

The study also found one-third of black adults in the state completed some college education but never earned a degree. Failing to graduate leads to major challenges for many of the adults, such as higher unemployment rates, lower wages and increased likelihood of student loan default, the study said.

That’s the situation faced by 30-year-old Glendale resident Moses Dalton, an African-American. He says he wasn’t ready for college when he enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit.

“We were dirt poor,” Dalton said. Since his mother “didn’t graduate from high school, she didn’t have a sense of the importance of education. I had no tutoring support, no support whatsoever,” he said.

Dalton said he earned $20,000 for the first time last year.

The group recommends policymakers target people like Dalton so they can return to college and finish their degrees. The study's authors also recommend public schools do more to teach teenagers what it takes to go to college and graduate.

Dalton works with black and Latino teenagers through the civil rights group Brotherhood Crusade. He offered a recommendation not in the study that he said may have pushed him to finish college.

Students such as those he works with excel when they have “connectedness to each other, to their history, to their community, to the idea that they matter, that they’re part of the American system and not outside it. That there’s a place for them.”