Getting in to college has become increasingly more difficult in California

October 29th, 2015
Campaign for College Opportunity President

By Campaign for College Opportunity President

Michele Siqueiros

Last month my niece and I started her college application process. She’s smart, works hard, and as she enters her senior year with more AP courses than I knew were even possible to take, she’s also stressed about tackling the college application process. Thankfully she has parents who are amazing cheerleaders, and she has my support. In spite of this, the stress of all that is required to put her forward as a worthy student for colleges in California to consider almost brought her to tears. As I assured her that it would be okay and we started making solid progress on college applications, hours later I was the one who had to proclaim, “We’re done for the day, let’s go get ice cream!” I’m lucky to have her in my life and she’s lucky to have me in hers, but how many smart and hardworking students aren’t so lucky? How many of them are incredibly worthy of attending the University of California or Cal State University but won’t get in? Why is it so much harder for our kids today than it was for us? That’s the question we will be answering in our upcoming report: Access Denied.

You might have seen the latest research by Saul Geiser at UC Berkeley who notes that race and ethnicity is now a stronger predictor of SAT scores for UC applicants than family income or parental education levels. It is unsurprising that SAT scores in college admissions is creating a less diverse student body, even as the test is a poor predictor of whether applicants will do well and graduate. A coalition of elite universities is also developing an alternative admissions process, a rival application to the Common App described as an effort to revolutionize admissions and allow colleges to learn more about applicants through online portfolios that would encourage high schoolers to begin their applications in the 9th grade. Supporters say this is an effort to help disadvantaged students who have little guidance in the college application process. I’m still not sure how this will actually make applying to college more accessible to the many deserving students we are leaving behind. Or if it will just make the stress of college applications last all four years.

Admissions practices are deserving of critique but we cannot ignore the reality that state funding (or lack thereof) contributes to creating a more competitive environment for our students than is necessary. Does it make sense that we shut out smart and talented kids from college when more of them want to go and a growing number of businesses require much more than a high school diploma from their workers? PPIC’s latest report highlights that California needs 1.1 million more bachelor degree graduates to close the workforce skills gap by 2030. That number grows beyond 2.3 million when you add in community college degrees and certificates.

And all of this is happening as the admissions bar becomes harder to reach not just at elite colleges and UC campuses – but at the California State University (CSU). The CSU was designed as an open access university system, but now has a growing number of campuses and majors within campuses demanding more of their applicant pool for what used to be a promised spot for Californians. Just like the drought, this dearth of college degrees does not bode well for our future.