After the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal last year, which implicated dozens of people including actress Lori Loughlin, universities began to receive increased scrutiny for the admissions practices that allowed wealthy, well-connected parents to bribe officials at top-tier universities across the country.
In response to the scandal, the University of California, the elite public university system that serves over 200,000 undergraduate students and includes UC Berkeley and UCLA, announced that it would conduct an audit to assess its “controls over athletic admissions,” as well as controls over the entire admissions process.
But in the audit, which was released last week, the UC system revealed that it was unable to determine how many students were actually admitted to campuses under “special talent” considerations — the criteria that was allegedly used by a former UCLA soccer coach to recommend a student for acceptance in exchange for bribes.
According to the audit, none of the nine universities had any sort of organized central system for tracking admitted special talent recruits, which include student athletes, musicians, and students of specialty academic programs. Furthermore, the report reveals the UC system doesn’t even have a set definition for what qualifies a prospective student for “Special Talent Admissions.”
The auditing office also observed that during sample testing, the universities had a difficult time providing documents to substantiate the “special talent” for which individual students were admitted. The report notes that one campus told the investigators they were documenting the approvals through email.
As a result of the poor record-keeping practices, and the inability of the auditing office to access even the most “basic data,” the UC system determined that it doesn’t know enough about “special talent” students in order to determine who was admitted under the classification.
“The campuses therefore are not able to identify the full population of Special Talent Admissions, nor are they able to readily access basic data on these admissions. This condition makes it very difficult for the University to accurately report to stakeholders the number and composition of Special Talent Admissions, and made it infeasible for us to conduct this analysis as part of this audit,” reports the audit office.
“All campuses that had existing approval requirements for special talent recommendations identified issues with the adequacy of the approval records — either that they were never documented, not documented, in a consistent manner, or not retained,” reads the report.
In addition to the improper record-keeping practices for special talent admissions, the auditing office discovered that “most campuses either did not sufficiently document or did not retain their admission decision approvals” for the general applicant pool “in accordance with the systemwide records retention schedule.”
The retention schedule requires campuses to keep admissions records for five years if the student matriculated to the university, and for one year if the student did not.
In a letter to the regents of the university system, UC President Janet Napolitano said the UC system was committed to “equity and fairness,” and would improve the admissions process to reflect the recommendations made by the auditing office.
“We are steadfastly committed to a fair and transparent admissions process based on student merit and achievement in the context of their educational opportunities and provides a level playing field for every applicant, regardless of income, social status, or influence. Unethical and illegal means to gain admission will not be tolerated, and UC is committed to do everything possible to prevent fraudulent activity,” wrote Napolitano.