UC Irvine’s ad­mis­sions fi­asco

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - F ad­mis­sions of­fi­cials

Iat UC Irvine had to write the sort of col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion es­says that high school se­niors dread each year, this might make the per­fect prompt: Tell us about the time you sucker punched hun­dreds of in­com­ing stu­dents by can­cel­ing their col­lege ed­u­ca­tion over what ap­pears to be a triv­ial is­sue. How did your think­ing go wrong, and what did you learn?

Such an es­say is prob­a­bly not forth­com­ing. But at the very least, the univer­sity owes stu­dents and the pub­lic a much bet­ter ex­pla­na­tion of this fi­asco.

UC Irvine, like most col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, re­scinds the ac­cep­tances of a small num­ber of in­com­ing stu­dents each year. It might be a case of a stu­dent with se­niori­tis let­ting his grades plunge; it might be a prob­lem with a re­quired fee de­posit.

But this year was strik­ingly dif­fer­ent: 499 stu­dents were told in mid-July not to bother re­port­ing to school in the fall. That’s a full 7% of the in­com­ing class. And most of them lost their place not by be­com­ing aca­demic sloths, but by fail­ing to get their fi­nal tran­scripts to UCI by the re­quired date. (Many of them in­sist that the univer­sity got it wrong, and some have let­ters from their high schools to prove it. More than 60 of the can­celed ac­cep­tances have been over­turned on ap­peal so far.)

By com­par­i­son, UCLA, which has a big­ger un­der­grad­u­ate pop­u­la­tion, re­scinded only seven of­fers this year.

So, did UCI ad­mit a loser co­hort that couldn’t get its act to­gether? Hardly.

Though univer­sity of­fi­cials weren’t forth­com­ing about this at the start, it all be­gan as an “ad­mis­sions yield” prob­lem. Each year, col­leges have to es­ti­mate how many ac­cepted stu­dents will ac­tu­ally at­tend — the “yield.” It’s an an­nual night­mare for col­lege of­fi­cials, and this year, 850 more stu­dents signed up for UCI than it had ex­pected.

As a re­sult, a univer­sity spokesman con­firmed, UCI took a “harder line” on stu­dents who pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity for the school to can­cel their ad­mis­sions, even though it was too late for them to ac­cept a slot at an­other school. Some stu­dents said UCI never even made it clear why their ac­cep­tance was with­drawn. When they called to ask ques­tions or to protest that they had in fact met the re­quire­ments, they weren’t able to get through to a live per­son will­ing and able to help.

Stu­dents who don’t keep their grades up can’t com­plain when they lose their slot. And sure, stu­dents have to get their pa­pers in on time. But fail­ure to meet the dead­line for a sin­gle doc­u­ment out of the reams of paper de­manded dur­ing the ad­mis­sions process calls for a lit­tle pro­por­tion­al­ity on the part of the univer­sity. High school ad­min­is­tra­tors, not stu­dents, are gen­er­ally re­spon­si­ble for send­ing out fi­nal tran­scripts. And it’s out­landish to dash a stu­dent’s dreams over a piece of paper that might be a lit­tle bit late. A sim­ple re­minder to stu­dents would have done the job; in­stead, the univer­sity at­tempted to man­age a prob­lem of its own cre­ation by hav­ing stu­dents pay the price.

This ugly episode was espe­cially sur­pris­ing be­cause UCI prides it­self on the many low-in­come stu­dents who at­tend and suc­ceed there, espe­cially those who are the first in their fam­i­lies to go to col­lege. These stu­dents of­ten at­tend high schools where coun­selors are over­whelmed by the large num­ber of stu­dents they over­see, and their par­ents of­ten aren’t in a po­si­tion to guide them. The rig­ma­role of fil­ing an ap­peal presents an­other ob­sta­cle for them.

The apol­ogy is­sued by the univer­sity — ad­mit­ting to in­sen­si­tiv­ity, er­rors and poor ac­cess — doesn’t go nearly far enough. It fails to de­tail how the univer­sity will help the stu­dents in­volved or how it will change its poli­cies in the fu­ture. Who con­ceived of this less-than-bright idea, and how far up the UCI chain did it go for ap­proval? Why were so many mis­takes made that UCI has al­ready read­mit­ted dozens of those af­fected? As a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion, the univer­sity owes a full ex­pla­na­tion.

If there’s a hero to this story, it’s the ex­ec­u­tive cab­i­net of the As­so­ci­ated Stu­dents of UC Irvine, which quickly plugged into the be­hind-the-scenes story that no one was ad­mit­ting at the time — that this was about a too-large co­hort of stu­dents, not hun­dreds of ir­re­spon­si­ble high-school se­niors — and ral­lied to their aid. If noth­ing else, it’s re­as­sur­ing to know that UCI will be grad­u­at­ing some sharp, in­volved and car­ing peo­ple.

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