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The shell game of Berkeley's holistic admissions

Gene Expression
By Razib Khan
Aug 3, 2013 12:36 PMNov 19, 2019 9:18 PM


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The title refers to the basic thrust of a piece in The New York Times, Confessions of an Application Reader. The piece ends with a paragraph like so:

Underrepresented minorities still lag behind: about 92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. A study of the University of California system shows that 17 percent of underrepresented minority students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

You may or may not agree with this particular type of admissions policy (I do not, because I do not care if minorities are underrepresented at universities if that underrepresentation is due to transparent academic deficiencies, which I believe to be the case). Rather, I want to focus on the term 'underrepresented minorities' and ascertain how underrepresented minorities truly are at Berkeley. That's easy enough to do. About ~80% of UC Berkeley undergraduates are California residents. The Census allows us to query the racial makeup of a range of age brackets for various localities. What I did was look for the percentage of individuals between the ages of 15-19 in the 2010 Census for California, approximately the source population of students who are freshman in the 2012 class. Here are the percentages in the 15-19 age category in 2010: 30% Non-Hispanic White 6.5% Non-Hispanic Black 11% Non-Hispanic Asian 48% Hispanic Comparing to UC Berkeley's student data Non-Hispanic Whites are nearly perfectly represented (though they are underrepresented in freshman admits, making up for it in transfers). Hispanics are represented at 1/3 the proportion you'd expect, and Blacks at about 1/2. The unsurprising reality is individuals Asian ethnicity are overrepresented. The Berkeley website attempts to elide and obfuscate this obvious reality by disaggregating the Asian ethnicities. But it also allows one to compare to the Census data on these ethnicities.

A few notes. I assumed that Indian American is a good proxy for South Asian (in California it almost certainly is, as 90% or more South Asians probably are Indian). Second, I'm comparing against the whole population. Unlike Hispanics Asians are not that young-skewed (their fertility is lower than Non-Hispanic Whites), but because they are an immigrant community they are not as old-skewed as Non-Hispanic Whites. A quick scan shows that there is variation among Asian groups. Finally, I decided to revisit the ethnic proportions at the various UC campuses. Taking all the undergraduates, and removing international students and those who refuse to provide racial information, here are the proportions on each campus:

CaliforniaUC BerkeleyRatio





South Asian1.48.15.8


The main thing that surprised me is that while Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz have reputations as schools for White kids, they actually have many Latinos as well. Though I have no idea if these are 'White Hispanics,' especially children of mixed-marriages who are putting down their more advantageous identity despite being functionally Non-Hispanic White in social contexts.

InstitutionBlackNative AmericanAsian/Pac IsFilipinoLatinoWhite




Los Angeles513751836



San Diego215051528

Santa Barbara411732451

Santa Cruz312142249

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