UC Santa Cruz models accessible and inclusive admissions

UC Santa Cruz serves as a model for universities seeking to enroll and serve a wide array of students from groups that have been historically excluded from higher education.

Following the Supreme Court's ruling that struck down Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s use of race as a factor in their admissions processes, higher education institutions nationwide have been compelled to explore alternative strategies for promoting diverse incoming student bodies. 

The University of California, Santa Cruz has long employed holistic methods to recruit, evaluate, and support applicants through the decision making process, aiming to enroll a student body that reflects the diverse population of California to prepare alumni to become global citizens.

“Access and opportunity for all are at the heart of a public university’s mission. While today’s court decision requires universities across the country to follow this new interpretation of the law, it also requires campus administrators, faculty, and staff to continue our efforts to expand outreach and opportunity in whatever ways we can,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer in a message to the campus community. “We proudly affirm that UC Santa Cruz will continue to be a leader in creating environments in which all students can grow and thrive.”

Since 1988, the University of California system has employed a rigorous comprehensive review process for undergraduate applications, ensuring an equitable evaluation that considers multiple aspects of achievement and promise while acknowledging the unique contexts in which students have demonstrated their academic accomplishments. 

With the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996, the state of California was prohibited from granting preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, education, or contracting. In the years since the passage of Proposition 209, UC campuses including Santa Cruz have worked diligently to enroll diverse populations, for instance by working to reduce systemic barriers to admission for first-generation and low-income students.

Building on this foundation, UC Santa Cruz implemented a holistic review approach in 2012. Under this method, evaluators consider the entirety of each applicant, taking into account a wide range of information, achievements, and personal circumstances. By considering the achievements within the context of opportunities applicants have faced and an equitable assessment of their qualifications, the university aims to admit students with an eye toward their individual potential to contribute to the university.

Michelle Whittingham, the associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at UC Santa Cruz, emphasizes the importance of assessing achievement within the context of available opportunities. 

"High-quality K-12 education is not equally available to all California students, and we are here to carefully assess student achievement and support student success," Whittingham said.

Unlike traditional methods that assign fixed weights to specific factors, the holistic review approach considers each applicant's academic and personal achievements in conjunction with other relevant qualifications. The evaluators aim to create a comprehensive understanding of each individual's unique circumstances and potential, taking into consideration the resources and opportunities available to them. This approach acknowledges the multifaceted nature of student achievements and ensures a fair and inclusive evaluation process.

UC Santa Cruz is committed to the mission of fostering equity, diversity and promoting excellence in higher education. The use of holistic application review reflects the campus's dedication to admitting a diverse student body that will thrive and contribute to its vibrant academic community.

As one of very few members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) with both Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving (AANAPISI) designations, UC Santa Cruz offers numerous options for students to find their place and thrive –  including the First Generation Initiative, Academic Excellence, the Resource Centers, the African American Theater Arts Troupe,  Engaging Education, the Treehouse Undergraduate Bioinformatics Immersion, and ABC Student Success

“Our goal is to recruit, enroll and graduate a student body that is as diverse as the population of California,” Whittingham said. “We want students to be able to see themselves on our campus and be prepared to make the world a better place.”

UC Santa Cruz's dedication to equity, diversity, inclusion and academic excellence is evident in its holistic review process and collaborative approach. By prioritizing access and opportunity, the campus serves as a model for universities seeking to enroll and serve a wide array of students from groups that have been historically excluded from higher education.