Other Voices: Dumbing down at UC campuses? | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Dumbing down at UC campuses?

This week Mr. Elias writes about the UC System and its admissions systems. It seems appropriate to shed a full light on the subject for those of you interested in the UC System and who may have children in or aspiring to go to one of the University of California campuses.

First and foremost, there is no doubt that the University of California is the crown jewel of public research universities worldwide. As a system of independent yet networked campuses, the graduates of these schools and the research conducted there, continually drive our statewide economy forward. Positions that become available for academic work are highly competitive drawing the brightest minds, not just in the U.S., but from around the world. To be a professor or administrator at a UC is one of the most sought after positions just because of the preeminence of the two products that are achieved at these institutions – education and research.

But, the numbers tell the real story. Last year (2007), 75,000 California high school seniors applied to UC campuses. 65,000 of them (over 15% of all California seniors and 85% of all applicants) accepted one of the 150,000 individual campus offers they collectively received from the 10 different UC campuses. To attest to their high level of achievement, half of these students had one of their SAT scores above the 600 level, which is consistent with previous years. Rather than “dumbing down,” the UC system, with the new campus in Merced and growth at campuses like UC Davis, is choosing a path of greater availability and opportunity for top performing California students.

The most unique spin on the subject by Mr. Elias is to suggest that any changes in admission practices has anything to do with athletic competition. To highlight the two most high profile UC athletic programs, UCLA and Cal (U.C. Berkeley); this past year, UCLA achieved its 101st, 102nd and 103rd National Athletic Championships in a specific sport. Over the past 30 years, UCLA has had more national athletic championships than any other University in the U.S. At Berkeley, 45 different current and former athletes and coaches will be competing for gold medals in Beijing next month, including three time NCAA swimmer of the year and multiple Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. This past year, the overall athletic program at UCLA finished ranked #2 in the Country with Cal finishing #7. These rankings, based on season ending competitive on field performance, are far ahead of, obviously, all but five other “sports schools” in the U.S.

Women’s Basketball Coach Sandy Simpson at UC Davis, a school choosing to move up to the highest competitive level Division 1 five years ago to increase the level of competition that its student athletes participate in, said it succinctly, “when you set the bar high academically, you tend to get kids who have had to achieve and are trying to be the best in every aspect of their life. It helps you get kids who are highly motivated.”

Mr. Elias may be viewing the University of California from a more historic perspective regarding athletics and academic competition, where sports were the highest form of a University’s public persona. From my viewpoint and that of most educators and academic professionals worldwide, the UC system and its 10 campuses continue to accept and educate the best and brightest students California has to offer AND offer them the foundations they need to compete in an ever more competitive landscape be it academically related, or athletically related.

The University of California need not reconsider its admissions practices to accommodate exceptional athletes. It is already head and shoulders above almost all other colleges and universities and it produces higher than average graduation rates besides. It is what we the taxpayers expect from the top tier of our education system.

There simply is no match anywhere in the world for the overall value and contribution of the University of California. In virtually any criteria possible, no institution system is even in the same “league” as that of our UC. We Californians are truly gifted to have this system in place. It’s continued strength ensures California’s position in the global economy into the future. And on a local level, the UC system continues to provide access to the best and brightest talent this rich and diverse state has to offer.

Tom Larsen, Volunteer Coordinator, Nevada County UC Admissions Ambassador Program.

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