The number of minorities attending the University of California's five medical schools rose slightly for the 1998-99 academic year compared with the prior-year enrollment. The increase was the first since race and gender considerations were eliminated from the admissions process by the UC Board of Regents, starting with the 1996-97 academic year.
Medical school applicants and enrollees at the university have dropped by a third since that time.
The implementation of California's Proposition 209, a voter initiative passed in 1996 that bans race and gender preferences in all public institutions, has not affected the admissions process, according to a university official.
"Proposition 209 has had little or no impact, since our policies have been close to the language of the initiative," said Terry Lightfoot, a spokesman for the University of California.
Proposition 209 was implemented in summer 1997 after it survived several legal challenges in state and federal courts.
The 1.4% increase this year in UC's medical students was minimal-72 minority students in 1988-99 compared with 71 in 1997-98. The university was happy with the results, though, said Lightfoot, given that 294 fewer minorities applied for this academic year than for the 1997-98 year, a drop of 13%.
"We're pleased we were able to hold the line; it's been a challenge for the university," said Lightfoot. He noted that the UC system has endured fierce competition in recent years from medical schools run by private universities. He declined to predict whether UC's minority admissions would continue to increase.
More than 3,200 minorities applied to UC medical schools for the 1995-96 academic term; 217 were accepted and 96 enrolled. Minority applicants dropped to 2,973 in 1996-97, the year of Proposition 209's implementation; to 2,333 in 1997-98; and to 2,039 this year, when 151 were accepted.
Latinos enjoyed the greatest gains in 1998-99, with 95 accepted by UC schools; 45 enrolled. Ninety-one were accepted and 39 enrolled in 1997-98. Although 51 African-Americans were accepted this year, compared with 47 last year, only 24 enrolled; 27 enrolled in 1997-98.
White students also had a steep drop-off: 492 were accepted and 248 enrolled this year, compared with 532 accepted and 272 enrolled in 1997-98.
By contrast, Asians-who are not considered underrepresented minorities - have enjoyed great gains since preferences were lifted, by taking spaces previously given to other minorities. A total of 425 were accepted to UC schools and 214 enrolled in 1998-99, compared with 400 accepted and 201 enrolled in 1997-98 and 392 accepted and 190 enrolled in 1996-97. In 1995-96, the last year with affirmative-action admissions, 338 were accepted and 159 enrolled.
Lightfoot said changes in overall minority enrollment reflected nationwide fluctuations in medical school enrollments.
While the pool of applicants has been smaller, Lightfoot noted that those minorities applying have been more competitive, with higher grades and admission test scores.
About 7.5% of total minority applicants were accepted to UC medical schools this academic year, compared with 6.4% in the 1997-98 and 1996-97 academic years and 6.7% in 1995-96. Altogether, 12.7% of the 1998-99 enrollees were minorities, compared with 12.5% in 1997-1998 and 12.8% in 1996-97. Prior to the preference ban, minorities made up 17% to 20% of UC enrollees in any given year.
Nationwide, minorities made up 11% of medical school enrollees in 1997-98, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges in Washington. The AAMC has campaigned vigorously against efforts to eliminate affirmative action.
AAMC President Jordan Cohen, M.D., believes the steep drop in applications from minorities is worrisome. "Their aspirations have been undermined by a regressive policy," he said.
Cohen and the AAMC have acknowledged that students admitted to medical schools under affirmative-action policies often have lower grades and test scores than those admitted without preference. Yet, he observed, they "possess all of the requisite qualities of drive, leadership and motivation to succeed in medical school . . . and nobody (graduates) medical school who is not qualified and met all the rigorous tests."