The Dirty Little Secret of College Admissions
Rodriguez, Roberto, Black Issues in Higher Education
In the aftermath of an expose by the Los Angeles
Times that some students were admitted
to the University of California at the request
of prominent people, a report by the
university was recently released.
Rather than silencing the debate, the report
drove home one of the dirty little secrets of college
admissions -- that when it comes to admitting
students who otherwise couldn't get in, friends and
relatives of prominent people are the first ones to
take advantage of special admittance procedures.
This has long been true at private colleges, where
"legacies," or children of alumni, have had first
preference and requests from large donors are
But public colleges are supposed to be immune
from that sort of influence. The report on the
University of California, which recently voted to
eliminate race as a factor in admissions, shows that
is not so.
The study, titled "Report on Campus Practices
Related to Admissions Inquiries by Prominent
Individuals," examined the admissions of the past five
years. Records from before then have been destroyed.
Approximately 215 annual inquiries were made on
behalf of undergraduate applications by prominent
individuals, of whom about 15 a year appeared to
have received special treatment.
Those who attempted to influence the admissions
process included UC Regents, legislators, high
government or corporate figures, and major
donors. The report, which was ordered by UC
president Richard Atkinson and conducted by UC
provost C. Judson King, showed that most of the
inquiries about undergraduate applications
occurred at UCLA, Berkeley and UC Davis, the
most prestigious of the campuses. Total inquiries
about graduate and professional school
applications were approximately ten per year for
the entire UC system.
During the time period analyzed, approximately
60 applicants may have or did receive preferential
treatment as a result of inquiries or
letters from prominent individuals.
According to the Los Angeles Times,
both Atkinson and King had
themselves handled some of the
admissions cases in question.
The report concludes that while
nothing was done improperly, the
university should establish a clear
policy so that there are no
misinterpretations in the future. The
report recommends the following:
* additional safeguards to assure the
integrity of the admissions process
should be instituted so that no external
factor is allowed to exercise undue or
improper influence on the outcome of
* procedures regarding handling and use of
letters of recommendation in undergraduate
admissions should be clarified
and published in University
* clear guidelines to govern appeals of negative
undergraduate admissions decisions should be
developed and published.
However, administrators within the admissions
community say that the issue, which
comes within the context of the
heated affirmative action debate, is not one
that will go away soon. For one thing, the
report only documented cases where there is a
paper trail. But that may not tell the full
Many high-level administrators in the
field of admissions say that preferential
treatment is widespread and involves not
simply VIPs from outside colleges and
universities but also VIPs from within the
institutions. Many of those who spoke …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Dirty Little Secret of College Admissions. Contributors: Rodriguez, Roberto - Author. Magazine title: Black Issues in Higher Education. Volume: 13. Issue: 12 Publication date: August 8, 1996. Page number: 12+. © 1999 Cox, Matthews & Associates. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.