Editorial: Education equity is the answer to affirmative action in Silicon Valley
California scrapped affirmative action from its public university landscape decades ago. With the end of affirmative action nationwide, private schools such as Stanford University will need to comply. Photo courtesy of Stanford University.

    California scrapped affirmative action from its public university landscape, decades ago, making last week’s Supreme Court ruling a moot point. The state’s private colleges, however, were able to keep the program in place. Now that’s changed.

    The state’s private institutions may be looking to their public counterpoints for solutions, as they struggle to level the diversity playing field with affirmative action gone. But the problem is deeper than college acceptance letters. It begins in grades K-12, in underserved communities that can’t provide an equitable education.

    There are two options that could help accomplish this in Silicon Valley. One requires advocacy and a willingness by the state to improve learning outcomes. The other needs to be driven by local school districts and parents.

    The first requires creating a public education system that aims for equity funding in schools. We need a formula where the California Department of Education gives underserved school districts a financial boost to add curriculum that includes a STEM education, the incorporation of science, technology, engineering and math. Making sure all students have access to the best technology and high-speed internet should also be factored in by soliciting corporate partners. This enables students to gain the competitive skills needed when applying to college.

    The second option requires building out a middle college program in every Silicon Valley school district. The program designed for high school juniors and seniors is an opportunity to attend community college while simultaneously earning a high school degree and college credits at no cost. This benefits both students with college aspirations and those uncertain about attending a university. It’s a unique program, a way to build self-confidence while getting a taste of what could be. Several school districts in Santa Clara County have this program, but all should be able to offer it.

    These changes could improve the statistical disparities highlighted in the annual Silicon Valley Pain Index, which shows only 2% of Latinas work in the tech sector, even though they’re about 13% of Santa Clara County’s population. It could increase minority employment outcomes for those with high-demand degrees where currently only 17.7% of Latinos and 2% of Blacks hold science and engineering degrees in Silicon Valley.

    When  state voters nullified affirmative action under Prop. 209 in 1996, the University of California and California State University systems had to find a new methodology to diversify their student populations, a formidable task. As of 2022, the two systems combined educate close to 750,000 students annually, according to their websites.

    These institutions recognized that acceptance priorities had to shift. Grades became less important and schools began looking at applicants in a more holistic manner. The UCs agreed to guarantee admission to the top 9% of high school graduates. The CSUs guaranteed a spot to any high student graduating with a 2.5 GPA . The institutions looked at ZIP codes to determine backgrounds and in 2020 they suspended the SAT and ACT scores as an admission requirement in both systems before later eliminating them entirely.

    It’s a start. Yet these efforts continue to fall short, especially at more competitive universities such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, according to a 2020 study.

    Going forward, college educators will need to figure out a more equitable way to balance applications with acceptance letters. But before these students even apply to college, they need a fighting chance and competitive education to get there.

    Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. Contact Moryt at  or follow her at @morytmilo on Twitter. Catch up on her monthly editorials here.

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