California's Back-Stop to Scandal

California's Backstop to Scandal

By David A. Lehrer

March 14, 2019

The unfolding scandal involving the super-wealthy and their kids' admission to universities across the country is fascinating. It has generated a revulsion that crosses ideological lines. Both liberals and conservatives have expressed their disgust at the "side door" access that the wealthy and famous were able to purchase through dishonest and, apparently, illegal means.

Many commentators have, understandably, focused on the disparity between disadvantaged students' access to higher education and that of the affluent that this incident demonstrates. There is a good deal of discussion regarding the impact that these undeserving admits had on qualified disadvantaged kids who ended up competing for fewer available slots. 

Many schools that have been mentioned as having been taken in by the scam (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) are distinguishable from some of their California colleagues in having a lesser commitment to the admission of socioeconomically disadvantaged students.  

Their admission rate of Pell Grant students (an index of economic disadvantage) lags behind many of California's public universities (e.g. in 2015, Harvard admitted 15% Pell grantees, Stanford 13%, while UCLA admitted 28% and UC Irvine 40%). The universe of poorer students has been and remains much larger at California's public schools than at most others; the impact of the cheaters is diluted. 

Several years ago Community Advocates published an op/ed in the Sacramento Bee which examined the data (which has not appreciably changed) on California's public universities and their commitment to admitting the disadvantaged. Many of California's schools recognized then, and still do, the need to consider the inequalities that inevitably result from poorer students not having tutors, SAT prep courses, high paid college counselors and the like.

The relevant paragraphs (and links to data) in the op/ed are below:

The University of California budget woes have deeply affected campus life.  

Yet the system's nine campus lead the nation in providing top-flight college education to the masses.  

 The New York Times reported on a sophisticated "College Access Index"  

that it developed to determine how well a university does after it has

admitted poor kids. Using several metrics to determine accessibility  

and chances for success for disadvantaged students, the Times concluded  

that of the top 10 schools in the country that "are doing the most for  

low-income students" six are UCs: Irvine, Davis, Santa Barbara, San Diego, 

UCLA, and Berkeley.

 Simply put, the University of California is the best educational system in the  

country to foster upward mobility for the disadvantaged. If you are poor  

and have potential and drive---no matter your race, ethnicity or gender---  

there is no place better.

 The UCs are not elitist enclaves oblivious to the disadvantaged. They have  

dedicated resources and effort to making sure that disadvantaged kids with  

potential and moxie are admitted and given every opportunity to succeed.   

 There is little doubt that that commitment will continue.