(CN) — The University of California system inappropriately admitted 64 well-connected students over a six-year period beginning in 2013 as a favor to donors, family and friends, according to a report released Tuesday by the California State Auditor.
“By admitting 64 noncompetitive applicants, the university undermined the fairness and integrity of its admissions process and deprived more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” California State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to the California Legislature.
UC Berkeley was the epicenter of the admissions scheme, welcoming 42 students who were not as academically qualified as other students because of connections to university staff, leadership and wealthy donors.
The UC system, which consists of nine campuses throughout California to form the most selective public university system in the state, also falsely identified 22 students as student-athletes due to connections to wealthy families and donors.
The audit comes on the heels of a nationwide admissions scandal involving a criminal conspiracy with several wealthy and well-connected families who paid to artificially inflate test scores or bribe admissions officials.
Howle found two of the system’s highest profile schools — UC Berkeley and UCLA — do not have key criteria for admissions, leaving decisions to unsupervised and improperly trained admissions employees who selected thousands of underqualified students.
“Neither UC Berkeley nor UCLA have developed methodologies for how they determine which applicants to admit,” Howle said. “Nevertheless, both of those campuses admitted thousands of applicants whose records demonstrated that they were less qualified than other applicants who were denied admission.”
Part of the problem, according to the audit, is that admissions staff were allowed to wield arbitrary decision-making power at both schools rather than relying on objective metrics for admissions.
The UC system voted in May to suspend standardized testing requirements for undergraduates seeking admission. The vote by UC Regents was unanimous; however, many of the experts that provided testimony during the meeting expressed concern that removing standardized testing would remove objective measurements from the admissions process.
The SAT and ACT have been targeted by critics of the university system who claim the tests favor the wealthy and well-connected because students whose parents have the resources to pay for extracurricular test preparation classes are at an advantage.
“We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC,” said UC president Janet Napolitano in May.
Napolitano has since resigned from her position and was replaced by Michael Drake.
Howle criticized the Office of the President for failing to ensure an overarching policy guiding admissions decisions at all nine campuses.
“The Office of the President has allowed the weaknesses in these practices to persist because it has not conducted adequate oversight of campuses’ admissions processes,” Howle wrote. “Although it conducted an internal review of admissions processes after the recent nationwide college admissions scandal, the Office of the President relied heavily on campuses to review themselves and did not attempt to identify inappropriate admissions activity.”
The auditor recommended establishing objective admissions criteria for all nine campuses while establishing proficiency standards for admissions employees who should be given more oversight.
The auditor also recommended the university system verify athletic talent and review donor material before admitting certain students on the basis athletic accomplishment.
Howle singled out UC Berkeley, saying the school should be closely monitored for at least three admissions cycles to ensure enrollments are not based on undue influence or improper personal favors.
“Stronger standards and oversight are necessary to improve the university’s ability to guarantee a fair and merit-based admissions process and to detect and prevent inappropriate admissions decisions,” Howle said.
Responding to the audit, Drake said he has “zero tolerance on matters of integrity, and will do everything I can to ensure inappropriate admissions do not happen on any of our campuses.”
He added: “To that end, I appreciate the state auditor’s assistance in providing the relevant underlying data and information supporting the audit’s conclusions. The university will then be able to take additional appropriate action as necessary and maintain the highest standards in our admissions processes.”