Background/Context: Previous research has pointed to the dismal state of secondary education in California and its implications for college access. These studies identified the extent to which disparities in access and outcomes in California are correlated with school demographics and the relative levels of segregation that exist in California’s public high schools.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Our research advances understandings of this association within California’s most selective sector of public higher education: the University of California. Three research questions guided our study: (1) In what ways, if any, are the racial compositions of high schools different for first-time freshmen (FTF) at different UC campuses? (2) How are the racial compositions of high schools that are the source of underrepresented minorities (URMs) at each UC campus different, if at all, from the racial compositions of high schools that are the source of White FTF? (3) Do the racial compositions of public high schools in California have an independent net effect on the likelihood that a school will send graduates to the University of California and individual UC campuses, controlling for other school characteristics?
Research Design: To answer our research questions, this quantitative study used descriptive correlations and multiple regressions to examine the high school source of FTF for 8 out of 9 UC campuses for the 2000–2001 academic year.
Findings/Results: Although the University of California as a whole may appear to be making gains in providing opportunities for students of color, accessibility to individual UC campuses for Black and Latino students varied depending on URM or White high school attendance. At 5 of the 8 campuses in this study, a greater proportion of URM FTF originated from White schools, as opposed to URM schools, where they were most concentrated.
Conclusions and Recommendations: Educational policies and practices in the UC system that hold some campuses accountable for goals of equity yet allow other campuses to exclude whole groups of students based primarily on the high school they attended are neither effective nor equitable. Researchers, policy makers, and educational leaders should examine the ways in which admissions policies may inherently privilege one group (those from White schools) and disadvantage other groups (those from URM schools). This problem needs to be addressed by both policy makers and practitioners in higher education and the K–12 system.