In this era of online dating and computerized banking, the University of California is rolling back the clock -- encouraging its campuses to have people, not computers, read applications from the tens of thousands of students who try each year to get in.
UC's governing board of regents took the first step Wednesday toward refining a 10-year-old admissions policy known as "comprehensive review." They're expected to approve a resolution that calls on all campuses to review applications the same way UC Berkeley and UCLA do: using a human.
Other UC campuses, all less selective than Berkeley and UCLA, now use computers to screen applications, admitting some students automatically based on the computer review and others after a person has read their application. But those schools are getting more competitive because more students are applying to UC at the same time the university is reducing enrollment to absorb budget cuts.
As it grows harder to get in, UC officials argue, people will make better decisions than computers. The regents' resolution calls for all UC campuses to use a process called "holistic review," in which a human reader evaluates applications in the larger context of students' lives.
The approach takes into account, for example, not just how many Advanced Placement classes a student takes, but how many are offered at his high school. And it factors in things like whether a student is working while going to school.
"We don't have any expectation that it will markedly change our student body," said UC Provost Lawrence H. Pitts. "What we're trying to do is be as sure as we can that we're not missing some students that some of our campuses inadvertently overlook."
The policy change came the same day regents discussed possible enrollment reductions due to a $500 million cut proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown's 2011-12 budget.
The shift is part of a larger discussion taking place in admissions offices around the country about how to balance the education mission of college campuses with what's become a tensely competitive admissions process.
Jerome Lucido, director of the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice at the University of Southern California, is organizing a conference on the subject later this month. He supported UC's policy change but said it can be tricky to explain. "In moving to holistic review, the decisions become somewhat murkier for a while. It's less easy to predict who will get in," Lucido said. "But, frankly, I think it's a better way to do college admissions."
The new method of reviewing applications will be phased in and is not supposed to affect students who applied this year. But for younger high school students, the new approach means that getting into UC will be even harder to predict.
"It's more of a mystery," said Christine Brownfield, a counselor at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento. "If it's more personalized or more individualized, it's harder to decipher what they're doing."
But during Wednesday's meeting, students, professors and UC President Mark Yudof spoke in favor of the switch, saying it's the same process used by some of the nation's most elite colleges.
"It's fair," said Jesse Chang, a UC Irvine student. "Every applicant wants to know their application was read by a human being at least once."
Hiring more people to read applications will cost money, although UC didn't estimate how much.
(Contact Laurel Rosenhall at lrosenhall(at)sacbee.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)