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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Merits of the National Merit Scholars Program: Questions and Concerns


After passage of Proposition 209, the University of California began searching for race-neutral admissions criteria that would allow it to minimize drops in enrollment of underrepresented minorities. Concern for underrepresented minorities led to several changes in admissions policies, most notably the introduction of comprehensive or holistic review for freshmen admission at all UC campuses. These efforts to identify criteria that would support UC’s efforts to maintain a racially and ethnically diverse student body have led to another unexpected development. The Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), UC’s faculty committee charged with overseeing admissions policies, has begun to do more than try to find admissions criteria that can help maintain racial and ethnic diversity. The committee has begun to question all criteria, including criteria that have long been regarded as reflecting high academic achievement. The first criterion that BOARS has questioned is related to the National Merit Scholarship Program. On March 1, 2005, Professor Michael Brown, chair of BOARS, wrote to campus admissions committees asking them to reconsider any preferences they might be giving to National Merit Scholars because BOARS had questions and concerns about the "merits of the National Merit Scholars Program." This paper describes the questions and concerns that prompted this inquiry.

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