This year freshman enrollment for underrepresented groups was about 24%, up from 17% in 2017. The increase comes after the university saw a dramatic drop in underrepresented minority students with the passage of a 1996 ballot initiative barring the school from considering race and ethnicity when choosing students to enroll, according to PBS NewsHour.
The ballot initiative didn’t stop the school from trying to improve diversity, starting with the hiring of Olufemi Ogundele as head of university admissions.
With his tenure, came a change in the way the university evaluated applications. Now, the school uses race-neutral tools like a College Board database of socioeconomic information about an applicant’s neighborhoods and academic offerings at their high schools. Ogundele also added a diversity team in the admissions office, expanding outreach around the state and making other changes.
“We are evaluating applicants and looking for excellence, and not perfection. That means that it allows us to take a look at students in the context of where they are coming from, everything from the curriculum that they are attempting, to the extracurricular activities that are available to them in their schools,” said Ogundele. “We are measuring students up against what's available to them, rather than comparing students, because we recognize that the K-12 system is not apples to apples for all the students who are going through it.”
Every year, the university also leans on its partnerships with campus high school counselors and college advisors around the state. Ogundele said these connections are vital as the university tries to reach out to more underrepresented students.
“A lot of times, people think that the admissions staff at Berkeley are the really strong students vs. the really weak students, and you just kind of make decisions,” Ogundele said. “But, really, a majority of our applicant pool is strong enough to get in here. So let's have a conversation about, what are some of those deeper nuances that we need to really consider to really make sure that excellence emerges in the conversation?”
Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said other schools could learn from the University of California system.
“They are actually some of the pioneers in creating more partnership programs in local communities, partnering with high schools or community-based organizations and creating programs where students can begin to do work before they actually become high school seniors, so that they become eligible for the requirements for admission to get into the U.C.,” Perez said.