Senator Hernandez Champions Equal Opportunity in Higher Education

February 9, 2011

Sacramento – Senator Dr. Ed Hernandez, O.D. (D – West Covina) has introduced legislation that would bring admissions practices in California’s higher education system in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent that allows public universities and colleges to consider race in their outreach and retention programs.

“I am proud to be putting this legislation forward,” said Hernandez, “this bill will help restore equal opportunity in California’s higher education system by strengthening outreach efforts to qualified minority students.”

In 1996, voters approved Proposition 209, a highly controversial ballot initiative that amended the state’s constitution to eliminate all uses of affirmative action in the state, including higher education. In the years that followed, there was a precipitous drop in the number of Latino, African American, and Native American students at California public universities, especially in the University of California system. Hernandez’ bill, SB 185, seeks to remedy some of the worst effects of Prop. 209.

“Proposition 209 was so far-reaching that even targeted outreach programs to attract and retain qualified minority applicants are not allowed,” said Hernandez “it is time California adopt the law of the land and eliminate policies that discourage college-eligible students from pursuing a higher education.”

New eligibility requirements and admissions initiatives have helped restore the numbers of some underrepresented student populations in the UC system to levels that existed before the passage of Proposition 209. However, these numbers still fall significantly short of the actual population of qualified Latino and African American high school graduates in the state. A recent study by the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) showed significant progress in college eligibility for underrepresented students coming out of high school, but this progress is not reflected in the numbers of these same groups being admitted into California’s university system.

“Latino, African American, and Native American student representation in the UC system has remained stagnant,” said Hernandez, “the numbers are the same as they were in 1995, even though the number of qualified high school graduates from these underrepresented groups has increased over the last fifteen years.”

Several federal court cases since Proposition 209 have narrowly defined the use of affirmative action. Hernandez has stressed that his intent with this legislation is not to have universities implement quota or preferential admissions systems, but instead to consider race in their outreach and retention efforts for targeting qualified students from these underrepresented groups.

“I see this bill as a way to expand our workforce and strengthen our communities here in California. Healthcare is a great example. We have a very real shortage of healthcare providers, at all levels, and the problem is especially acute in communities of color. If we recruit qualified students from these communities to pursue a higher education, they are more likely than anyone else to return to those communities to pursue a job or setup practice after they graduate,” said Hernandez, “It is time to stop tying the hands of our public universities and allow them to extend these same opportunities to all qualified Californians.”

Senator Hernandez had introduced similar legislation last session while still a member of the Assembly, but it was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hernandez is more optimistic about this bill’s prospects with Governor Brown now in office.

“This legislation is about nothing more or less than equal opportunity. That is why the previous bill enjoyed such a broad coalition of support,” added Hernandez, “My hope is that we will have the backing of Governor Brown, but I am not taking anything for granted.”