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The University of California
Qualified Students Face an Inconsistent and Unfair Admissions System That Has Been Improperly Influenced by Relationships and Monetary Donations

Report Number: 2019-113

September 22, 2020

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, my office conducted an audit of the University of California’s (university) admissions process. Our review assessed the risk for fraud and inappropriate admissions activities at four campuses and we conclude that the university has allowed for improper influence in admissions decisions, and it has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.

From academic years 2013–14 through 2018–19, we found the four campuses we reviewed—UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara—unfairly admitted 64 applicants based on their personal or family connections to donors and university staff. Campuses admitted 22 of these students through their student-athlete admissions processes, even though the students did not have the athletic qualifications to compete at the university. UC Berkeley admitted the remaining 42 students, most of whom were referred to the admissions office because of their families’ histories as donors or because they were related or connected to university staff, even though their records did not demonstrate competitive qualifications for admission. 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.

The university has also failed to ensure that campuses fairly and consistently treat the thousands of prospective students who apply each year. Neither UC Berkeley nor UCLA have developed methodologies for how they determine which applicants to admit. Nevertheless, both of those campuses admitted thousands of applicants whose records demonstrated that they were less qualified than other applicants who were denied admission. Applicants’ chances of admission were also unfairly affected by UC Berkeley’s, UCLA’s, and UC San Diego’s failures to properly train and monitor the staff who review and rate applications. We found that staff were sometimes overly strict or overly lenient in their review of applications, thereby making the applicants’ chances of admission unduly dependent on the individual staff who rated them rather than on the students’ qualifications.

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. 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. 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.

Respectfully submitted,

California State Auditor