RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.
More than 25,000 African Americans graduated from high schools here in California last month. Yet come September, only 96 black freshmen will enroll in one of the state's most prestigious universities, UCLA. The number of black students at UCLA has been falling for years, but now at a 30-year low, officials say something has to change.
NPR's Elaine Korry reports.
ELAINE KORRY reporting:
On the quad at UCLA, students in summer school are rushing off to class or lounging on the steps of Powell Library. In the sea of passing faces, there are lots of Asians, Chinese, Filipino, perhaps Indian, and of course whites, and fair number of Latinos. But a full seven minutes go by before I spy an African American, Sofia McFoy leaving the library. She's a senior majoring in anthropology, and she notices these things too.
Ms. SOFIA MCFOY (Student, UCLA): There's about what, what, I'd say maybe a hundred students in this area. So I'm one percent right - my math right?
KORRY: Across campus it's not quite that bad. Blacks will make up nearly two percent of incoming freshman at UCLA this fall, still very low, and too low for McFoy to feel like she really belongs.
Ms. MCFOY: When I first started here, I was asked like three times what sport I play. And I'm like, don't play any, actually, got here on academics. And then -or they assume that I'm an African American studies major. And you think it would be different because it Los Angeles, but it's not.
Ms. YANINA MONTERO (vice chancellor for Student Affairs, UCLA): We agree it's a crisis, absolutely.
KORRY: Yanina Montero is vice chancellor for Student Affairs. She's well aware that UCLA is public institution financed by taxpayers. She says the university is failing its mission to educate a cross-section of California citizens.
Ms. MONTERO: We are not able, with these numbers that continue to decline, to have the critical mass of African American students on campus.
KORRY: Why not? Many critics points squarely at Proposition 209, a ballot measure backed by former UC Regent Ward Connerly, which outlawed affirmative action in admissions. Since the law took effect a decade ago, black enrollment at UCLA has dropped 57 percent. But Connerly says the fault lies within inferior high schools and middle schools and elementary schools, not with his law.
Mr. WARD CONNERLY (Former UC Regent): It's much more convenient to blame 209 and to blame the university's requirements than to do the heavy lifting of getting our students prepared so that they can compete.
KORRY: The prestige of a UC diploma has upped the ante for everyone. Last year, more the 45,000 kids applied to UCLA. Connerly says there are simply too few blacks who make the grade on the only standard that should count, academic merit. For example, in California, one in five African Americans never even finishes high school.
Mr. CONNERLY: The fact is that the pool of black students is so small, who are in the top tier of their classes to be admitted to the select institutions, that is the problem.
KORRY: UCLA sociologist Darnell Hunt agrees that too many kids from poor urban schools don't have the skills to compete. But he counters that some black students have over come great obstacles to succeed and they still can't get in.
Mr. DARNELL HUNT: (Sociologist, UCLA): We have example after example after example of incredibly talented, 4.2 GPA, 1400 SAT, athlete, piano player - I mean, all the things that one would expect to see in well-rounded student, who been rejected by UCLA.
OVERBY: How can that be? Because, Hunt says, other applicants come from affluent suburban schools with college coaches and scores of advanced placement courses that raise student GPAs even higher. Hunt is the director of the Bunch Center for African Americans studies at UCLA, which recently published a report on declining black enrollment. In it, he says Prop 209 is a problem, but so is UCLA's own admissions process, which he says, fails to take a student's background into account.
According to Hunt, the state's other premier school, UC-Berkeley, which has a higher percentage of blacks, also has better guidelines.
Mr. HUNT: They more holistically review the student file. They look at grades and SAT scores in the context of the high school the student went to. They also look at the numbers in the context of the family situation.
KORRY: Hunt wants UCLA to adopt similar standards. Connerly says, that's just affirmative action in disguise, something Proposition 209 prohibits. So far now, administrators say their hands are tied, and although everybody seems to feel something must be done, there's no solutions in sight.
Elaine Korry, NPR News.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
If you'd like to track the drop in African-American admissions at UCLA, and also UC-Berkeley, over the past decade, you can go to npr.org.