The Relationship of High School Characteristics to the Selection of Undergraduate Students for Admission to the University of California-Berkeley

Article excerpt

This study compared selected characteristics of the high schools attended by three groups of students: those admitted to the University of California-Berkeley (UCB) in 1998 and 1999, those denied admission to UCB in those years, and California high school students in general. Discrepancies between selected school characteristics were found for groups one and two in 1998, but by 1999 those differences had narrowed substantially. Typically, students admitted to UCB attended well-resourced high schools that were better positioned to prepare a larger pool of competitive college applicants. Students from schools with disproportionately more Chicano/Latino and Black students were not as likely to even apply to UCB, partly due to the limited educational opportunities and resources available at their schools.

One of the best-known studies on inequality of educational opportunity is the Coleman Report, which was conducted 10 years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruling (Coleman et al., 1966). The purpose of that report was to compare and evaluate the opportunities and performance of minority and White students in the United States. Among its many findings were that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools a student attended, the student's home background, and the background of other students in the school were among the most significant factors in determining academic achievement levels (Ballantine, 1989). Of particular significance was the finding that students who attended segregated schools had the lowest achievement levels. These and other findings led Coleman and his team to conclude that one way to improve the academic achievement of poor and minority children would be to integrate the nation's schools.

Due in large part to mandatory busing, the racial composition of U.S. schools has slowly changed. Orfield (1983) reported that the percentage of African American students in "predominantly minority" schools (those in which 50% or more of the students are from minority groups) had changed from 76.6% in 1968 to 62.9% in 1980. However, in 1980 nearly a third (33.2%) of Black students attended schools that had 90% to 100% minority students. Comparatively, for the same year, 68.1% of Chicano/Latino students attended predominantly minority schools, yet unlike the rate for Black students, the segregation of Chicano/Latino students actually increased between 1968 and 1980 as this population increased. Although the rate of desegregation in schools has since slowly improved, some communities have experienced resegregation in recent years as middleclass Blacks and other minorities moved out of the inner city (Hacker, 1992; Massey & Denton, 1993; Wells & Crain, 1997; Wilson, 1987).

Generally, the literature suggests that students in schools with a high concentration of minority students are at risk of academic failure for reasons associated with poverty. Moreover, the combination of these and related factors conspire to negatively affect students' educational choices and options (McDonough, 1997). These concerns closely mirror those raised by Coleman et al. over 30 years ago. For example, according to Gandara (1995), the background of other students in a school makes a big difference in students' educational opportunities and in the availability of resources. She concluded that minority students, particularly in the inner city, almost exclusively come from low-income families and attend schools that have poorer funding, fewer resources, teachers with less training, and fewer college-preparation courses. Trent et al. (in press) found that African American and Chicano/Latino students are more likely than other groups of students to attend schools with high concentrations of other minority students. These students' schools also tend to be located in poverty-stricken communities that support large school districts with a weaker tax base.

Purpose of the Study

Given that the makeup of one's high school is closely linked to one's educational opportunities, the main purpose of the present study was to examine whether selected high school characteristics play a role in undergraduate admission to one of the most selective institutions of higher learning in the nation: the University of California-Berkeley (UCB). …