For almost 25 years, Proposition 209 has banned the consideration of race in admissions at state institutions such as UC Berkeley. On Nov. 3, California’s voters will once again consider the question of affirmative action on their ballots through Proposition 16, also known as the Repeal Proposition 209 Affirmative Action Amendment. Prop. 16 is a constitutional amendment that would repeal California’s ban on affirmative action. If passed, the amendment would allow public universities such as UC Berkeley to implement affirmative action programs within the bounds of federal law.
On June 15, the UC Board of Regents endorsed Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, the original version of Prop. 16.
“I am proud UC endorsed giving California voters the chance to erase a stain, support opportunity and equality, and repeal Proposition 209,” said board chair John Pérez in a statement.
Historically, UC Berkeley has struggled with enrolling a diverse student body. In 1999, African American students made up just 4.7% of the undergraduate student body. In 2019, they made up just 3.5%.
“On average, Black and Latinx students are underrepresented at selective colleges,” said Tolani Britton, an assistant professor of education at UC Berkeley. “Prop. 209 also created a drastic underrepresentation of students of color … on the UC campuses.”
The Daily Californian previously analyzed affirmative action at UC Berkeley in 2016. Now, four years later, the Daily Cal is re-examining diversity on campus. Though Prop. 209 would enable colleges to consider affirmative action programs, a holistic approach to diversity is broader than admissions.
“Admissions is one piece...but then you have to think about how the campus experience is like for students, particularly for students who are severely underrepresented,” Britton said. “How are you recruiting students?”
We investigate every step of the college pipeline: application, admission and enrollment. We have restricted this article to incoming freshmen, though transfer students are also a crucial part of diversity at UC Berkeley.
First, we examine applications. The number of applications signifies interest in UC Berkeley from graduating high school seniors. Below, the graph shows the number of applications to UC Berkeley by ethnicity from 1994 to 2019.
The plot shows applications steadily increasing across the board, though applications from African American and American Indian students have mostly plateaued in the past decade. The sharpest growth comes from Asian students’ applications, which increased by about 10,000 from 2012 to 2019.
UC Berkeley has implemented new recruiting initiatives to boost applications from underrepresented areas. Programs such as the Undergraduate Student Diversity Project, the African American Initiative and the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force emphasize outreach to high school counselors, scholarships for admitted students of color and revamping admissions based on socioeconomic status.
“We believe our new efforts to improve diversity in outreach and recruitment are currently at the forefront among peer institutions,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.
Next, we plot the admit rate of different ethnic groups from 1994 to 2019. Admit rates are the part of the college pipeline that administrators have the most direct control over.
After 1996, the year Prop. 209 was passed, the plot shows a sharp drop in admit rates for American Indian, African American and Chicano/Latino students. Though admit rates have declined overall, the rates for African American and Chicano/Latino students fall significantly below the other groups.
Prop. 16 would reverse Prop. 209’s ban on affirmative action. Supporters argue that affirmative action is necessary to build a diverse student body and serve UC Berkeley’s mission as a public institution. Opponents of affirmative action argue that preferential treatment for African American or Chicano/Latino students would crowd out white or Asian students with stronger applications.
A recent study on Prop. 209 by Zachary Bleemer, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in economics researching higher education, argues against this claim.
“The students who were pushed out of UC by Prop. 209 benefited more from UC access than those who took their place,” Bleemer said. “(Black and Hispanic) students after Prop. 209 who lost access to UC campuses … ended up substantially worse off, on average, than expected for people moving between campuses.”
The next chart compares UC Berkeley to other public universities based on the percentage of graduating high school seniors in the state from underrepresented groups and the percentage of incoming college freshmen from underrepresented groups.
UC Berkeley falls behind its peers in terms of diversity given California’s high school demographics. Other large public universities like UC Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin have more diverse student populations, while Georgia Institute of Technology is similarly low in diversity compared to its in-state population.
Lastly, yield rates tell us whether admitted students choose to attend UC Berkeley.
Though yield rates have been highly variable, the past five years have seen a decline in yield from African American and American Indian students. Admitted Chicano/Latino and Asian students are now most likely to commit to UC Berkeley. In 2014, a decline in admit rates and a new way of placing applicants on waiting lists likely led to a spike in yields.
Low yield rates from students of color may be due to a poor perception of UC Berkeley’s campus climate, according to Britton.
“It’s not simply that the numbers (of underrepresented students) are low, it’s also the ways in which the campus provides itself as welcoming or not welcoming to students of color, especially low-income students of color,” Britton said. “I also think some of the legacy of Prop. 209 has been … an understanding that these campuses are not necessarily welcoming for students of color.”
Even after coming to campus, inequities continue in the experience at college. Graduation rates demonstrate how many students go on to get their degrees. Below, we show six-year graduation rates of different ethnic groups in both the entire UC system and UC Berkeley.
From these graphs, it is evident that UC Berkeley has higher graduation rates across the board, with the exception of the variability seen in the rates of its African American students.
In the admitted class of 2020, UC Berkeley made significant strides in diversity, admitting the most ethnically diverse freshman class in 30 years. Yet the UC Board of Regents has made it clear that it views affirmative action as a crucial part of holistic admissions.
The past almost 25 years demonstrate the impact of Prop. 209 on California’s students. Soon, voters will need to confront the question of race-neutral admissions once again.
Data for student admissions and enrollment was sourced from the UC System Infocenter.
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