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African American Students Weigh Campus Attitudes in Picking Colleges

By Carla Rivera 

Jahmia Edwards cried when she opened the letter saying she’d been admitted to UCLA, the college she’d dreamed of attending since childhood.

The 18 year-old senior at Alliance William & Carol Ouchi High School in South Los Angeles quickly dismissed UC Merced, Cal Poly Pomona and Syracuse University, the other schools where she’d been accepted.

It has taken weeks, however, for her classmate, Sabrina Montgomery, 17, to decide on a college, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of UCLA versus UC San Diego, after not getting into her No. 1 choice, UC Berkeley.

Her decision was UCLA. San Diego offered proximity to the beach, but information about some racially charged incidents was dismaying to the African American student, and she said she didn’t feel quite as welcome.

In California and across the nation, students are reassessing campuses, consulting counselors and crunching financial aid numbers ahead of Decision Day deadline to submit deposits to their college of choice.

Edwards and Sabrina, like many other black students, are weighing other concerns, too, such as the campus climate and the presence of student groups, faculty and mentors who would provide a network of support.

In the nearly 20 years since California voters approved Proposition 209, banning consideration of race in public college admissions, the number of black students at UCLA, UC Berkeley and other campuses has plummeted.

University of California leaders say that they want to improve those figures and that campuses are attempting more outreach into predominantly minority high schools, among other things. But for black students, a campus with few of their peers can be a daunting prospect.

Some black and Asian students at UCLA also have denounced the racial climate at the Westwood campus, after recent incidents of students receiving hate mail and the posting of offensive fliers.

Students must generally rank in the top 9% of their high school class and top 9% statewide to be admitted into one of the 10 UC campuses. At UCLA, only 16.3% of state students were admitted for the fall 2014 class, with African Americans representing about 4.4% of those accepted.

Last year, about half of admitted black students actually enrolled and administrators are hoping this time to increase that yield, said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA associate vice chancellor for enrollment management.
The university made extensive outreach to students who are the first in their families to attend college, those who are low-income, those in rural communities and in schools with few resources. “I think we’re going to have a tremendously diverse class,” she said.

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