Universities reserve the right to rescind admission in extreme circumstances, such as a student’s commission of criminal acts, failure to graduate, and the like. Indeed, I commented on just such a situation involving Harvard a few months ago in this blog. However, the University of California (“UC”) is taking this a step further, and not in a helpful way.
The UC uses one application for its nine campuses that offer undergraduate instruction. Students “check off” boxes for the UC campuses they are applying to, and each campus makes its own admissions decisions.
The application instructs students not to send transcripts; students self-report their grades. To ensure that the reported grades are accurate, all offers of admissions are made provisional upon the UC receiving official final transcripts verifying those grades.
Those provisional offers also include additional conditions which must be satisfied before enrollment. The UC refers to these provisional offers as “contracts.” (As noted below – in a paragraph only a lawyer could love – it is not clear that these are true “contracts”.)
Unfortunately, some of those additional conditions protect the UC against more than fraud, and students may face unwelcome surprises. For example, this summer, the University of California, at Irvine (“UCI”), rescinded 499 admissions because students had failed to arrange for their high schools to deliver their final transcripts by July 1, as required by those agreements. This seemed like an overreaction to a trivial deadline, but the news soon broke that there was more at stake for UCI.
At the time, UCI was over-enrolled by approximately 800 students. The university had already tried to convince some accepted students to enroll instead in a separate “academy” with a 50% tuition break. However, UCI failed to mention that those new students “would have to cancel their enrollment as regular freshmen, take a more limited menu of classes in the adult education division and give up access to campus housing and financial aid.” (LA Times, 8/2/17; see also https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/views/2017/08/07/essay-lessons-controversy-over-university-california-irvine-revoking.)
Not surprisingly, the offer was not taken up by enough students to solve UCI’s over-enrollment problem. So UCI turned to its contracts and rejected those students who had failed to submit transcripts timely.
On Friday, campus spokesman Tom Vasich conceded that the admissions office was more stringent than usual about checking requirements “as a result of more students accepted admissions to UCI than it expected.”
The vice-chancellor of students affairs also fessed up:
I acknowledge that we took a harder line on the terms and conditions this year and we could have managed that process with greater care, sensitivity and clarity . . . “
In other words, the University of California reserves the right to punish some breaches of its “contracts” more than others depending upon whether doing so is to its advantage. Ultimately the public outcry – and examples where the UC had indeed received the transcripts timely but mistakenly rescinded admission – forced the university to back down.
But questions remain because some of the terms in these “contracts” are vague. For example, to discourage “senioritis”, the UCs require students to maintain a certain standard of excellence in their senior years. But what standard?
The general rule is that students must maintain a minimum weighted 3.0 GPA in college prep classes (the “a-g” requirements in UC lingo), with no “D” or “F” grades. However, for some of the most prestigious campuses, the contract may specify higher GPAs or test scores. See e.g., https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/university-california-los-angeles/1990196-ucla-provisional-contract-for-ib-student.html.
And then there are campuses that add “expectations”. Take this language from the University of California, at Santa Cruz:
In accepting admission at UCSC, you agree that you will:
- Earn a level of academic achievement in your fall and spring courses (as you listed on your UC application) consistent with your previous coursework. Earn a grade of C or higher in those courses (or equivalent for other grading systems).
Wait. Look at the text again: “[e]arn a level of academic achievement in your fall and spring courses (as you listed on your UC application) consistent with your previous coursework.”
UC Davis appears to have similar language in its “contract”. See https://www.ucdavis.edu/admissions/freshman/admitted/.
Do we now have two requirements? Must a student not only avoid “Ds” and “F”s, but produce the same grades (mostly “A”s) that got them admitted in the first place? That is a lot harder to accomplish, and essentially extends the application period until high school graduation. Say it ain’t so, UCSC!
Regrettably, it is so, at least for UCSC.
UCSC includes an FAQ here: https://admissions.ucsc.edu/apply/conditions-faq.html:
FAQ 1A: My contract indicates “Earn a level of academic achievement in your fall and spring courses consistent with your previous coursework, with no grade lower than a C (or equivalent for other grading systems).” What do you mean by “consistent?”
Answer 1A: We expect that the grades you will earn in your senior year will look similar to the grades you earned in the first three years of your high school career; for instance, if you were a straight-A student for three years, we would expect A’s in your senior year. Consistency in your level of achievement must be carried through your senior year coursework.
FAQ 1E: I earned a C- in a course. Does that mean my admission will be cancelled?
Answer 1E: The University of California does not compute pluses or minuses in high school coursework. Therefore, a C- is considered equivalent to a C grade. Remember, however, that we also expect a consistent level of academic achievement in your coursework. (Emphasis added.)
Well, so much for students pausing during their last semester to enjoy the high school they attend in a way they previously had to defer for 3 ½ years of grueling competition. Of course, we do not know whether UCSC (or UC Davis) routinely enforce this standard.
But this requirement is worse than draconian – it is confusing. When analyzing a contract, lawyers look for the consequences of a violation of its terms, what we call a “breach.” The UC’s “contracts” take a sweeping approach – any violation of any of its terms is considered grounds for canceling the contract and rescinding the admission.
UCSC is no exception. From that same linked document:
Failure to meet your Conditions of Admission Contract will result in the cancellation of your admission. It is your sole responsibility to meet all conditions. Read each of the six conditions below and ensure that you meet all of them. Accepting your offer of admission signifies that you understand these conditions and agree to all of them. (Emphasis in original.)
That appears clear, but for one problem. What does it mean for UCSC to “expect” students to have grades that are “consistent”? This formulation appears vague: “how many “B”s can a straight-A student sustain before being in breach? And what do we make of the verb “expect”? It is weaker than “require”, and lacks the commanding “shall”. Is such an expectation enforceable?
I am not practicing law anymore, so I leave this question to those who are. But the fact that this is a reasonable question is a huge problem – both for UCSC and our students.
Looking at the big picture does not yield a pretty sight. The University of California requires students to sign “contracts,” even though minors are generally considered to lack the capacity to do so. (Not a small point for lawyers – see https://www.mnscu.edu/system/ogc/docs/HANDBOOK%20Minors%20on%20C.pdf; I suggest that a university’s authority to enforce a policy, as opposed to the letter of a contract, may be subject to heightened due process concerns).
The UC reserves the right to enforce those “contracts” differently depending upon when it is to the UC’s advantage to do so. And it is sometimes vague about what it wants a student to do (earn “consistent” or “strong” grades through all four years) and what conduct constitutes a breach of contract allowing cancellation of admission.
Worst of all, by the time the UC decides whether to exercise its contractual remedies by rescinding admission, students have already declined all other offers in accordance with the May 1 rule used nationwide by colleges.
The UC has a sterling reputation, and I am a proud graduate of UCLA. However, as I’ve said previously in other contexts, caveat emptor.
You and your students should read any admission letters and accompanying materials very carefully before accepting an offer from the University of California. Upon accepting that offer, labor diligently to make sure that your student’s transcript arrives at their campus (and confirm in writing that it did), and that all other terms of the contract/agreement are satisfied.
Finally, of course, senioritis can be a serious threat to any student’s college aspirations, but it is a particularly dangerous malady for those planning to attend the UC. If it looks like grades will be a concern, call Admissions and warn them; they may be more inclined to be lenient if notified early than the cold, hard, text of their provisional “contracts” suggest.