CSU Admission Policy Change May Disproportionately Impact Students of Color

By Dr. Nicole Korgie and Dr. Keyon Anderson

Posted August 24, 2020

In response to the unavailability of the SAT and ACT tests due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California State University system responded by removing those test scores from the admission requirement. In place of the test scores, the CSU will consider other various supplemental factors for students whose GPAs falls between 2.00-2.49. The official CSU statement reads:

The California State University (CSU) will temporarily suspend the use of ACT/SAT examinations in determining admission eligibility for all CSU campuses for the 2021-2022 academic year. This temporary change of admission eligibility applies only for the fall 2021, winter 2022 and spring 2022 admission cycles. First-time freshmen must meet the following eligibility requirements: be a high school graduate or equivalent; complete the 15-unit comprehensive “a-g” pattern of college preparatory course; and earn a qualifying “a-g” grade point average (GPA) as described below.                  

  • California residents and graduates of California high schools will be eligible for admission by earning a 2.50 or greater “a-g” GPA.
  • Any California high school graduate or resident of California earning a GPA between 2.00 and 2.49 may be evaluated for admission based upon supplemental factors such as number of courses exceeding minimum “a-g” requirements, household income, extracurricular involvement, and other available information that would inform the campus admission decision. Each CSU campus will determine the supplemental factors used with GPA to determine eligibility in these cases and communicate these criteria publicly for prospective students.

Typically, a CSU admission policy undergoes years of deliberation and review before being changed or implemented. Unfortunately, the decision to suspend the use of ACT/SAT scores for undefined criteria is undoubtedly going to affect the students who are at the lower end of the admission pool.

We can expect that this policy change will be further exacerbated within low-socioeconomic communities where students are more likely to encounter barriers to success. These include a lack of access to academic support, less access to technology for online learning, issues at home that impact academic performance, and lower academic expectations from adults in their lives, among other factors. Students from low-socioeconomic communities were already facing an uphill battle to decrease the education debt, or achievement gap; now, they are being asked to adjust yet again.

Although the change to the CSU standardized testing requirement may have been necessary because the examinations could not be administered, it traded one equitable issue for another. Prior to March 2020, all 11th grade students were operating with the understanding that admission to the CSU system would be based on only two items: their GPAs and their SAT or ACT scores. Near the end of 11th grade, students were able to estimate their likelihood of getting into a particular CSU campus. Now, applicants who fall between a 2.00-2.49 GPA will be reviewed on items that they had little to no opportunity to prepare for. In most cases, extracurricular opportunities vanished, leadership development roles were stagnated, and previously available academic support resources were extremely limited or inaccessible.

The message currently being sent to students is that those at the lower end of the (otherwise admissible) applicant pool must now undergo additional steps in order to demonstrate that they deserve access to a four-year college education. This message, which students are receiving as we face continued civil unrest and a global pandemic, may prove to be detrimental to many students’ educational and career goals. For many educationally disadvantaged students, the CSU was their most likely access point to an affordable four-year degree. This change in admission policy is likely to cause additional stress on students. Fortunately, as high school counselors, we have the opportunity to provide understanding and support.

As the next admissions cycle begins, we must analyze our existing data to best support our students. We must know which CSUs students will apply to and attend, which students will be most affected by the new CSU admissions policy, and which resources are available to us to use to inform students about the new policies. It is imperative that counselors then contact the CSU campuses were students will apply to see what criteria they are using, generate a GPA query to identify the students who fall within the 2.0-2.49 GPA range, and create resources for students to learn about the new admissions process.

Questions to consider for the next admissions cycle:

  1. Which CSUs do most of my students apply to or attend?
  2. Which students on my campus may be affected by the new CSU policy?
  3. What resources can I use to inform my students about the new CSU policy?

Action Items for Counselors:

  • Contact those CSU campuses that my students are likely to apply to and attend to learn about what their specific review process is going to be.
  • Generate a GPA query to identify which students fall within the 2.0 – 2.49 GPA range.
  • Create resources for students to be updated on the new admissions process (prepare options both in-person and online formats).

During our “CSU FAQs” webinar, which College Bridge is hosting on Oct. 7 and Nov. 4,  we will be discussing these and other important topics. Register for our free informative webinars or our in-depth workshops at https://college-bridge.org/counseling-webinars/.


CSU 2021 Admission Policy: https://www2.calstate.edu/apply/freshman/Pages/first-time-freshman-guidance.aspx