17% is among lowest at top public universities
January 14, 2010|By Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Dominique Stewart-Thomas, 18, builds robots for fun and plans to study electrical engineering next year in college. She makes near-perfect grades in high school.
She is also black and lives in a single-parent household in Oakland, just a few miles from the UC Berkeley campus she hopes to attend.
But a study released Wednesday of the nation’s 50 flagship public universities – the best in each state – shows that minority students like Stewart-Thomas make up only a fraction of students at these schools. UC Berkeley has one of the lowest rates, 17 percent.
“It’s kind of sad and disheartening,” Stewart-Thomas said. “UC Berkeley is in the Bay Area, with many different minorities and cultures. And it’s in Berkeley – one of the most liberal, diverse communities in the United States.”
Researchers at the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., think tank focusing on minority achievement, found that even though black, Latino and Native American students who entered college in 2007 were 29 percent of the nation’s high school graduates, they were only 13 percent of entering freshmen at the flagship universities.
The report, “Opportunity Adrift,” makes the case that leading public universities – from UC Berkeley to the acclaimed Penn State – are failing at their main mission: giving smart people of all backgrounds a chance at an excellent education.
“Far more high-achieving, low-income students are graduating from high school than before – but more than half don’t go to college, or enter a college they could have achieved even if they had never cracked a book,” said Katy Haycock, president of the Education Trust. “This hurts them, and it hurts our country.”
UC Berkeley outshines other flagship schools in extending the welcome mat to low-income applicants: 33 percent of its students rely on Pell grants, compared with an average of 21 percent at 22 other flagships.
But like many of the top-quality public schools, Berkeley falters when enrolling black and Latino students – even compared with top private schools, the report found.
While 17 percent of UC Berkeley’s students are underrepresented minorities, at Stanford it’s 26 percent.
Walter Robinson, UC Berkeley’s director of undergraduate admissions, blames voter-approved Proposition 209, which prohibits universities from using race in admissions.
“Private universities can identify and target students that public universities, under Prop. 209, can’t,” he said. “It’s one of the most frustrating things in my 30 years of being a higher education professional.”
He said recruiters try everything, including Twitter.
Haycock of the Education Trust dismissed the idea that laws like Prop. 209 should let the flagship schools off the hook.
“There’s no question that the laws impact the data,” she said. “But a question for California institutions is how to reach out to those students more aggressively.”
Student Stewart-Thomas agrees.
She decided to apply to UC Berkeley after her track coach mentioned a college fair on campus, and she went.
It was that random.
“Obviously, Prop. 209 is a big hindrance,” she said. “But colleges don’t know how to reach out. If it weren’t for my track coach, I wouldn’t have known about it.”
The full report can be found at http://www.edtrust.org.
(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010