African American Student College Choice and the University of California Davis
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African American Student College Choice and the University of California Davis



This study explores why African American first-year students admitted to the University of California Davis decline their offer of admissions. The objective is to help the University successfully achieve their goal of supporting greater diversity and representation of students from historically underrepresented minority communities and marginalized backgrounds, including African American students. This is also an effort to address the low representation of Black students in higher education nationally, through the close investigation of UC Davis—a top-tier Research 1 University with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This study is important because representation and access matters. The University of California (UC) has long expressed its commitment to enrolling a student body that reflects the state. UC Davis has also established similar diversity goals as part of its strategic plan, “To Boldly Go.” If we are to address barriers to access, we must understand what those barriers are, and also determine what students are looking for and what their needs and priorities are as they navigate through the college choice process by asking them. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, this study focused on the following research questions:1. In what ways do the characteristics of African American first-year students admitted to UC Davis differ between those who submit an SIR and those who do not? 2. What are the experiences that influence whether African American first-year students admitted to UC Davis submit an SIR? To address research question one, I conducted a quantitative analysis using existing administrative data on admission and enrollment by student characteristics as well as National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data for first year African American students admitted to UC Davis in fall 2018. I compare the characteristics of admitted African American students who decide to enroll with those who decline their admissions offer. To address research question two, I conducted semi-structured interviews with seven African American first-year students admitted to UC Davis for fall 2020 who declined their offer of admission. These interviews were conducted to document student narratives about college choice, and to better understand “the why” in their decision not to attend UC Davis. The findings from this study will help inform institutional strategies, including recruiting and enrollment, about how to best support African American applicants considering UC Davis, particularly for Black students from the local region. Addressing enrollment growth will require an adjustment in strategy and collaborative efforts at all levels within and external to the University, including coordination with alumni, community-based organizations, schools, and other educational partners. Given this context, understanding why Black students who do gain admission to the University decide not to attend is crucial. This study also adds to the broader body of literature around student college choice, by highlighting the experience of African American students.

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