When Proposition 209 passed in 1996 by California voters, it eliminated the use of race, sex or ethnicity in state government institutions in employment, public contracting and public education.
This new law gutted state affirmative action laws that were enacted in the early 1970s to address long histories of discrimination against racial minorities and women.
As a result of Prop. 209, Black enrollment in schools in the prestigious University of California system dropped dramatically. From 1995 to 1999 the number of admitted California resident African American, Latino and American Indian undergraduates dropped 58 percent, going from 27 percent to 12 percent.
But now the UC system is starting to see an uptick in the number of African Americans who are enrolling.
“Since 1995, we have seen a huge increase in African American students to the UC system schools,” said UC President Janet Napolitano, in a recent interview at her downtown Oakland office.
“There has been a one-third increase in Black students to schools in the system. But we still have more work to do to increase this,” she said.
In this year’s new UC class, 30 percent of freshmen and 34 percent of transfer students come from underrepresented minority groups, the largest in UC history.
Currently, Black students make up only 4 percent of the undergraduate students in the UC system, compared to Asians who make up 35 percent of the student body, whites who make up 24 percent and Latinos who are 22 percent of the students.
UCLA saw the highest number of African American students admitted, at 6.9 percent of all incoming freshmen and transfer students. African American enrollment at UC Berkeley has also increased. T
There are a multitude of reasons African American undergraduate student numbers are up. One cause of the university’s focus on transfer students, called the Transfer Pathways program.
This program admitted nearly 17,000 students into the UC system this year from California community colleges, compared to 38,000 students who were admitted as freshmen.
Each year, more transfer students will have an easier path into the UC system, comprised of 10 campuses throughout the state.
Another reason for the increase of African Americans, according to President Napolitano is due to programs like Achieve UC, which provides support to high school students starting at the ninth grade.
“These type of programs help to increase diversity and stay in bounds of the boundaries of Prop. 209,” said Napolitano.
Programs like Achieve UC target low-income high schools throughout the state, letting young people know that getting a UC education is possible.
Napolitano said that while efforts to diversify students is an ongoing and continuous issue, other areas of the school need to be diversified.
“Diversification of the faculty is something that we are working on now,” continued Napolitano.
There are close to 200,000 undergraduate students in the UC system and 52,000 graduate students. Tuition costs between $12,000 and $13,000 a year. About 55 percent of the students receive financial aid and pay no tuition or fees.
The application process at the UC system starts Nov. 1 and ends Nov. 30. Napolitano expects the system to receive over 200,000 applications.
Since she left her job as head of Homeland Security in the Obama Administration and became the president of the University of California, educational conditions in California have been improving, said Napolitano.
“Since I have been here, we have made a lot of progress on in state student growth and the diversity of students coming into the UC system,” she said.
“We are doing this in a way that does not take away from a UC education, which I am most proud of.”