By: Erica A. Gonzalez, Kimberly Kem, Gisela Obieta, Lillian Do, and Natalia Guevar
Proposition 209 passed in the state of California in November 1996 in hopes to put an end to state discrimination and preferential treatment based on sex, race, color, and national origin in education, public employment, and contracting (Cal. Const. art. I, § 31). It intended to provide equality among all races and sexes; however, Proposition 209 spawned some unintended consequences to the people of the United States of America.
For one, Proposition 209 has had a negative impact on underrepresented minorities in the University of California (UC) systems (Wang, 2008). In fact, the overall applications, admissions, enrollment, and graduation rates in the UC system has declined ever since the passage of Proposition 209 (University of California, 2003). As a result of its passage, the UC systems have become more selective in nature and have provided a clear indication of Proposition 209’s adverse and unpleasant impact on underrepresented minorities in California’s public higher education system. Some examples of supplemental admissions criteria, which only served as means for limiting access, included “SAT scores, eligibility index scores (a formulaic score based on GPA and SAT I or ACT score), special talents, and socioeconomic and educational disadvantages” (Rendon, Novack, & Dowell, 2004, p. 228). This stricter selective process resulted in higher numbers of Latino and African American students being denied admission, indicating a retreat from the UC system’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion (Wang, 2008). An argument can be made that underrepresented students, especially the African American and Latino populations, might be facing perhaps one of the most complicated times gaining admission into both UC and CSU institutions than at any other time in the history of the California (Rendon, Novack & Dowell, 2004).
A second unintended consequence to the passage of Proposition 209 was that the proportion of underrepresented minorities admitted and enrolled has declined (Wang, 2008). A huge indicator of this adverse impact is the continuous growth of the gap between the percentages of underrepresented minorities who graduated from high school and those who are admitted as UC freshmen. Prior to the passage of Proposition 209, the gap between underrepresented minorities as a percentage of California high school graduates and as a percentage of new UC freshmen was widening after narrowing in the 1980s (Wang, 2008). In 2005, after the passage of Proposition 209, underrepresented minorities constituted 44.8% of all California high school graduates, but only 19.8% of all newly admitted UC freshmen for 2006, a difference of 25% (Su, 2006). Although this growing gap could also be attributed to the changing demographics and rapidly increasing minority student population in California elementary and secondary schools (California Department of Education, 2007), the decline in underrepresented minorities as UC freshmen could also be because of a decline in underrepresented minorities' applications (Wang, 2008).
Lastly, the persistence and graduation rates of underrepresented minorities in the UC system have not improved (Wang, 2008). Prior to the passage of Proposition 209, the persistence and graduation rates of underrepresented minorities in the UC system were already improving (University of California, 2003), so any improvement in these rates after its passage could just have been a continuation of its progress. In addition, actual available data shows that persistence and graduation rates have actually declined for certain underrepresented minority groups after the passage of Proposition 209. For instance, persistence rate for African American freshmen admitted to the UC in 1998 was 83.1%, but declined over the next two years to 82.9% and 81.7% (University of California, 2003).
Undeniably, more than a decade after its passage, underrepresented minorities and women continue to face tremendous difficulties and barriers to employment, education, and contracting (Hadley, 2005) under Proposition 209. Further, the role of race and the benefits of diversity in higher institutions of learning will continue to create debates in the future. As more states consider making legislative changes to abolish affirmative action policies favoring ethnic minorities, the impact of Proposition 209 will serve as a useful guide (Wang, 2008). It is hoped that further considerations will be made in the future, creating a more balanced and just system to emerge.
California Civil Rights Initiative, art. I, § 31.
California Department of Education. (2007). Enrollment by Ethnicity, 1981-1982 through 2001-2002. Retrieved from http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/enreth.asp.
Hadley, E. (2005). Did the sky really fall? Ten years after California’s Proposition 209. Brigham Young University Journal of Public Law, 20(1), 103-138.
Rendon, L., Novack, V., & Dowell, D. (2005). Testing race-neutral admissions models: Lessons from California State University-Long Beach. The Review of Higher Education, 28(2), 221-243.
University of California. (2003). Undergraduate Access to the University of California after the Elimination of Race-Conscious Policies. Retrieved from http://www.ucop.edu/sas/puhlish/aa_final2.pdf
Su, E. Y. (2006). UC ethnic shift revives Proposition 209. The San Diego Union Tribute. Retrieved from http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20061127/news_ln27prop209.html.
Wang, I. (2008). Finding a silver lining: The positive impact of looking beyond race amidst the negative effects of Proposition 209. Brigham Young University Education & Law Journal, 1, 149-170.