The following article was originally published April 1, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Responding to the unprecedented shift to remote learning and other challenges to education caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, the University of California is temporarily suspending its core admissions requirements for students seeking to enroll.
The decision by the UC Board of Regents takes a big weight off the shoulders of high school seniors, especially those who have been unable to fully access online courses. Universities can and often do withdraw admissions offers when seniors' grades fall.
"I was really kind of scared that we started this online thing," said Chami Lifula, a senior at Colony High School in Ontario. "I did not know what work would be going into my grade book."
In a dramatic shift from past standards, the UC system suspended the requirement to submit a score from a standardized test, like the ACT or SAT, for students submitting applications for fall 2021 enrollment.
The university emphasized that the change is not permanent. Use of standardized tests has drawn criticism from civil rights advocates who say they are biased in favor of students who can afford extensive test preparation. A lawsuit filed last fall is pending.
UC administrators have also suspended the requirement that admitted 12th graders earn at least a C in senior year classes in so-called A-G courses, which include history/social science, English, math, science, languages other than English, visual and performing arts courses, and college-prep electives.
Chami Lifula, the Colony High senior, has been admitted to UC Merced for this fall. She had been required to maintain a C average in her second-semester A-G courses, which for Lifula are anatomy, advanced-placement economics, government, AP literature, and pre-calculus. She's receiving college counseling help from MOSTe, a non-profit that mentors young women.
"I'm really happy that they decided to do that," she said of the change in admissions requirements. "It just takes a lot of pressure [off] you."
With many high schools temporarily abandoning traditional letter grades or grade-point scores because of the shift to remote learning, the UC system will now accept "pass/fail" or "credit/no credit" grades.
"We want to help alleviate the tremendous disruption and anxiety that is already overwhelming prospective students due to COVID-19," John A. Pérez, chair of UC's Board of Regents, said in a written statement.
The Regents also directed the nine undergraduate campuses not to withdraw admission offers because of clerical errors like a missing high school transcript. With brick-and-mortar high school campuses closed, some students may have difficulty getting their transcripts in time to meet official deadlines. The UC system is requesting transcripts by July 1 but is making allowances for schools that can't meet that deadline.
"The goal of these changes is to ensure a fair process that does not affect the life chances of students who, but for the coronavirus pandemic, would have become full-time students at the University of California," said Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chair of UC's Academic Senate in a written statement.
The Senate makes decisions on UC's academic matters.
Last fall the University of California received nearly 116,000 applications from California seniors. UC's actions were received as good news amid worry that public schools' shift to online learning has been hurting students with fewer family resources.
"This COVID-19 crisis has put many students at a disadvantage," said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. "[High school online learning] really has exacerbated equity challenges such as the digital divide, a lack of adequate counseling and guidance. So this was the necessary change that had to happen."
Younger students looking ahead to enrolling in 2021 said they were concerned about their future prospects after the SAT exams scheduled to be administered in March and May were canceled.
"When they canceled it I started freaking out because I was like, 'Oh my God, when do I have another chance to take it?'" said Rachelle Kanounji, an 11th-grader at Pasadena High School.
Her mother, Christine Siriani, was happy that UC suspended the requirement to submit SAT or ACT test scores for admission because while her daughter maintains high grades, studies a lot, and belongs to several school clubs, she often doesn't do well on tests.
"For her to take a test, she's always nervous," Siriani said. "She was worried she won't be accepted because of her score, not because of who she is as a student."