Why There Are Too Few 'Black Bruins'

Why There Are Too Few 'Black Bruins'

In “The Black Bruins,” a spoken-word Youtube video that has been viewed more than 2 million times, a group of young African American men express their anger at how few black students are enrolled at UCLA.

Although the video draws attention to a real problem–there are very few black students at UCLA–the video is misleading and filled with hyperbole.  Meanwhile, a data set, which I discussed in the seventh essay in this series, and have posted online, provides some sober facts about why there are so few black students at UCLA.

The video insinuates that UCLA is discriminating against African Americans in its admissions decisions.  For instance, at one point the video’s main speaker says, “We are asking for a level playing field.”  

However, as I argue in my book and in this series of essays, UCLA tilts the playing field in favor of, not against, African Americans. 

At one point in the video, the speaker says, “According to Professor Sander, 3.3% is far too many black kids.”   By “Professor Sander” he means Richard Sander, a UCLA law professor whom I discussed in parts four and five of this series.  

Sander is a critic of affirmative action, and, like me, has conducted statistical analyses showing that UCLA likely grants implicit racial preferences in its admissions decisions.

If a viewer of the video didn’t know any better, he or she would think that Sander is a racist whose sole goal is to minimize the number of black students at UCLA. In truth, Sander wishes there were many more black students at UCLA. However, he does not believe that affirmative action is the proper way to achieve that goal.  The reason, as his research shows, is that affirmative action actually harms the careers of black students.

The 3.3% figure that the speaker mentions refers only to males. Yet among undergraduate female freshmen at UCLA, approximately 5.6% are black. (Moreover, Sander has never referred to the 3.3% figure, much less said or wrote anything like “3.3% is far too many black kids.”)

Nevertheless, the total number of black students at UCLA, male and female, is low, and it reflects a real problem. For instance, among recent freshmen classes at UCLA, only about 4.5% of the students (male and female) are African American.

The video, however, provides no hard facts about why there are so few black students at UCLA.  In contrast, the data provide many hard facts about the issue.

One of those facts is that disproportionately fewer African Americans apply to UCLA.  Specifically, although African Americans comprise approximately 13% of the U.S. population, they comprise only 5.1% of the freshman applicants to UCLA.  

Part of the reason for that is because, in California, blacks comprise only about 6.6% of the total population.  In addition, African Americans are less likely than other races to apply to college.  Once one is aware of those facts, the 5.1% figure is hardly a surprise.

Nevertheless, 5.1% is still higher than 4.5%.  Thus, black students indeed receive less than their proportionate share of admissions slots at UCLA, compared to their representation in the applicant pool.

(Curiously, although UCLA has received more criticism, the discrepancy is less at UCLA than at UC Berkeley or UC San Diego, the other two most selective campuses in the UC system. At Berkeley, African Americans comprise 4.8% of the applicants and 3.1% of the enrollees. At San Diego, they comprise 3.5% of the applicants and 1.5% of the enrollees.)

However, the main problem is not discrimination.  Rather it is because–as the data confirm–black applicants to UCLA tend to have lower grades and SAT scores than other applicants.  

The difference is quite stark. For instance, as I discuss in my book, of applicants to UCLA’s main college, Letters and Sciences, only 15% of African Americans have a “weighted” high school grade point average (GPA) greater than 4.15. By contrast, 37% of the white applicants and 36% of the North Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and Pakistani) applicants have GPAs greater than that number.   

A similar result occurs with composite SAT scores. While approximately 30% of white applicants and 36% of North Asian applicants have scores above 2000 (out of 2400), only 6% of the black applicants have scores that high.  

Among North Asian applicants, the median total SAT score was 1920, while the median among black applicants was 1590. The difference, 330, is about the difference between a typical student at UCLA and a typical student at UC Riverside or the University of Arizona.

In fact, as I argue in my book, if UCLA admitted students strictly by SAT scores, then the black admission rate would be about one-third its current number.  Consequently, rather than comprising 4.5% of the freshmen class, African Americans would comprise only about 1.5% of the class.  

If UCLA admitted students strictly by grade-point averages, then the black admission rate would be about two-thirds its current number; that is, African Americans would comprise only about 3.0% of the freshmen class.

Those are the real data behind a very real problem.

Photo: Screenshot/YouTube