The Campanile before the Big Game/Keoki Seu

UC Berkeley accepted ten times the number of white and Asian students than African-American students for this year’s freshmen class and greatly increased its international student population, according to statistics released Thursday by the school.

There are only 124 African American in the freshmen class this year, making up 3.4% of the student body. In comparison, there are 1,153 white freshmen and 1,662 Asian-American freshmen, comprising 31.7% and 45.7% of the class respectively. Four hundred and twenty Chicano/Latino students and 28 Native American students are enrolled in the first year class.

The number of freshman from other countries jumped 41.7%, going from 331 to 469 students. UC campuses have been deliberately enrolling more out of state and international students because they pay higher tuition.

The drop in the number of African-American students selected for UC Berkeley continues a decline that began in 1998, when the effects of Proposition 209 started to take hold. The proposition, sponsored by UC Regent Ward Connerly, prohibits UC from taking race, sex, or ethnicity into account while making admission decisions.

In 1997, UC Berkeley had 257 African American students. In 1998, the number dropped to 126. It has never reached higher than 152 (2006) since then.

The number of Latino/Chicano students is also in decline, dropping from 489 in 2007. There has been a slight uptick in the number of Native American students.

Fall 2010 was probably the hardest year ever to gain admission to UC Berkeley. More than 50,000 students applied for the freshman class, the largest number ever.

UC Berkeley has been trying to bring a more diverse population to the school since Prop. 209 passed. In 2007, it created a vice chancellor position for equity and inclusion . Gibor Basri, an astrophysicist, holds the job. Last year, he released a master plan to improve UC Berkeley’s diversity which included additional outreach to K-12 schools around the state.

UC Berkeley would like to admit a more diverse student body, but there are structural and public policy issues that make it difficult, said Walter Robinson, vice-chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions. African American and Latino high school students have the highest drop out rates in the state and the vast majority are not academically eligible for UC.

In 2008, for example,  there were 26,000 African American high school graduates in California, according to statistic provided by the California Post-Secondary Education Commission. Only 6,000 of those met UC requirements. Around 3,148 applied to the UC sytem and 1,591 applied to Berkeley. Of those admitted, only 129 became freshmen at Cal, said Robinson.

There were 143,470 Latino/Chicano high school graduates in 2008 and through a similar winnowing, 6,000 applied to Berkeley. Only 420 enrolled.

“Instead of a pipeline, we have a funnel,” said Robinson.

Complicating matters is the fact that private universities can consider race, sex, and ethnicity in admissions and financial assistance, and are often able to entice top minority students with a generous package of aid.

But those who do enroll at Cal do very well, said Robinson. There is a high retention rate for both African American and Latino/Chicano students between freshman and sophomore years. The six-year graduation rate for African-Americans is 83%, for Latinos/Chicano students it is 85%, and for the rest of the student body it is 90%, said Robinson.

“There is no silver bullet that can turn around the enrollment challenge,” said Robinson. “My bragging point is the success of the students who are here. We bring outstanding students to Berkeley.”

There are 35,838 students at UC this fall, with 25,540 undergraduates and 10,298 graduate students enrolled.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...