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S.D. Unified Continues To Put Pressure On SDSU

High school student Sakeenah Shabazz could be one of many local teenagers affected by SDSU’s policy change.
Ana Tintocalis
High school student Sakeenah Shabazz could be one of many local teenagers affected by SDSU’s policy change.

The San Diego Unified School District continues to clash with San Diego State University over the college's decision to deny some local students admission next fall. San Diego school trustees will hold a special hearing on the matter today. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more from both sides:

Groups of high school juniors huddle over a class assignment at Lincoln High School in South San Diego. Many of these teenagers come from poor, minority families yet they're a step ahead of other students because they're enrolled in a special college preparatory program called AVID.

Sixteen-year-old Sakeenah Shabazz says she can't believe San Diego State would turn away some local students like her.

“It almost seems unethical,” Shabazz said. “The main foundation of a college is the students who go there. So how are they going to take away the local foundation?”

Two months ago SDSU officials unexpectedly decided to end a longtime policy that guaranteed local students a spot on campus as long as they met minimum California State University requirements.

Now there's a universal eligibility system. Local students will have to compete with out-of-area students at a higher academic level.

The decision has sent shockwaves through the San Diego Unified School District. Critics say SDSU will deny thousands of San Diego students who are CSU eligible but don't have high GPA and SAT scores. San Diego Unified school trustee John Evans is one of the most vocal critics in the district.

“I think the problem is really breaking faith with the San Diego community," Evans said.

Evans and the rest of the school board are demanding SDSU President Stephen Weber reverse the decision.

But university officials say a $55 million state budget shortfall is forcing them to reduce admissions. However, San Diego State is one of only two CSU campuses that is doing away with its local student preference policy.

Evans believes San Diego State might be using the state's money problems as an excuse to rid itself of local students.

“I'm afraid they're taking advantage of this budget crisis situation to enter into a change they might want for other reasons," Evans said. "To me, in the middle of a budget crisis, it makes sense that throughout the state, there would be more and more students who would be going to a four year university locally.”

At a recent state assembly hearing on this matter, some San Diego State professors testified they believe the university wants to squeeze out local students so it can become a more elite institution. They say some university officials worry SDSU is becoming a great big four-year community college.

Sandra Cook is SDSU's assistant vice president for academic affairs. She says that's simply a "conspiracy theory."

“There are lots of different philosophies of how you should do your admissions. But the bottom line is the university is doing what is best for the university under the circumstances (and that is) to give admission slots to those students who are most likely to succeed.”

Cook says local students who meet minimum CSU standards have a 51 percent chance of staying in college.

She says the only local students who would be barred are those at the lower academic end.

Cook says the university will not reverse its decision despite San Diego Unified's special hearing on the matter.

“What I'm seeing with a lot of the critics of the policy is they're telling students that San Diego State doesn't want you, they don't like you. So if the school board meeting turns into a screaming session, or a pounding your chest ‘Oh my God this is horrible,’ that will be extremely counterproductive.”

Cook adds the university is keeping other special admission programs such as its Compact for Student Success in the Sweetwater Union High School District. South Bay students are guaranteed a spot if they meet certain academic requirements. Cook says the university would be open to creating a similar compact with the San Diego Unified School District if it adopted major curriculum changes.