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UC Davis Nursing School Increases Diversity Without Affirmative Action

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   July 11, 2023

A holistic admissions process looks beyond grades to deliver a diversified student body.

Colleges and universities may be scrambling for new ways to uphold diversity after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to ban affirmative action, but the University of California, Davis, adopted a holistic admission process more than 25 years ago when California banned race-based admissions in 1996.

The court found it unconstitutional for colleges and universities to use race as a factor in student admissions, creating a particular challenge for the nursing profession, which seeks to better reflect its patient demographic. Indeed, a nursing workforce that mirrors its patient demographic makes healthcare more comfortable for every patient, several studies, including a Joint Commission report on cultural diversity, have shown.

But UC Davis has managed to accomplish that without affirmative action. Instead, its holistic admissions process looks beyond grades, says Jessica Draughon Moret, PhD, RN, an associate professor who chairs the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing’s Recruitment, Admissions and Fellowship Committee.

"We are looking for unique experiences that will increase the diversity of our cohorts. We are looking for diversity of thought, in addition to diverse experiences. We weigh applications based on different life experiences," she says. "Then we also look at GPA, aptitude, essays, and letters of recommendation. We do look at all of that, but we also know those are not necessarily the best measure of program success."

The holistic review considers markers common for people from underserved backgrounds, such as rural versus urban environments and current or former military service experience.

Applicants answer questions regarding their socioeconomic background regarding:

  • Attending an under-resourced high school
  • A primary language other than English
  • Living in a medically underserved area
  • Being the first in their family to attend college, known as a first-generation student

When the School of Nursing launched in 2009, the founding faculty decided against requiring a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score for admission, arguing that data from standardized tests is based on cultural bias and a barrier for underrepresented students, according to the university.

"We also look at the clinical and life experiences applicants have that align with our mission, such as commitment to service, cultural sensitivity, empathy, capacity for growth, emotional resilience, and interpersonal skills," says Teresa Thetford, director for the Physician Assistant (PA) program.

That approach resulted in the most diverse class of P.A.s in the history of the school last year, with more students older than 35, more men, and the largest group of Hispanic students yet.

To help attract a diverse pool of applicants, the school developed a series of videos advising prospective students on how to, in part, submit the strongest personal statement and letters of recommendation.

The admissions process and student success resources are working. For the past two years, according to the university, the class of students entering the entry-level nursing program mirrors the program’s applicant pool.

“We are looking for diversity of thought, in addition to diverse experiences. We weigh applications based on different life experiences.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Postmodern Studio /


The U.S. Supreme Court's ban on colleges and universities using race as an admissions factor has no effect on California, which banned race-based admissions in 1996.

The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis employs a holistic admissions process that looks beyond grades.

For the past two years students entering the entry-level nursing program mirrors the program's applicant pool.

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