Law & Courts

Texas Leaders See Flaws In Admissions Plan

By Sean Cavanagh — June 18, 2003 4 min read
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As the U.S. Supreme Court ponders the fate of race as a factor in college admissions, some top Texas officials want to revamp portions of their state’s nationally watched “10 percent plan.”

Long promoted by supporters as an effective alternative to affirmative action, the state’s policy guarantees entry into any of its public universities for students finishing in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes.

Larry R. Faulkner, the president of the University of Texas at Austin, said he wants lawmakers to cap the number students automatically admitted to his campus—traditionally the most selective public university in the state—under the system.

And several legislators are pushing for changes that would require high school students to take more rigorous academic courses before they were granted university admission through the 10 percent rule.

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure to look at it,” said Harrison Keller, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, a Republican. “There’s bipartisan support for revising the 10 percent plan.”

Some lawmakers hope Gov. Rick Perry will consider allowing the issue to be heard during a special session dedicated to education, possibly to be held as soon as July. A spokesman for the GOP governor said Mr. Perry was open to reviewing the law, but wasn’t sure it would happen during a special session.

Diversity Sought

Texas legislators passed the 10 percent plan in 1996, following a federal appeals court decision that effectively barred the use of racial considerations in university admissions. The plan was aimed at maintaining campus diversity, without the use of minority preferences, by setting a uniform admissions standard for all students, some of whom would come from heavily minority areas.

In April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases challenging the legality of race-based admissions policies at the University of Michigan. Those cases pushed race-neutral plans like Texas'—and similar models in Florida and California—to the forefront of the affirmative action debate. (“Ed. Dept. Report Lists Alternatives to Race Use in College Admissions,” April 9, 2003.)

Backers of percentage plans, including President Bush, who was the governor of Texas when the state adopted its policy, view them as sound ways to promote diversity in a post-affirmative action landscape.

But critics say the success of those policies in bringing diversity is limited, and is reliant on external factors, such as back-door efforts to recruit minority students.

The percent plan has also drawn scorn from some Texans who say students from top-ranked high schools are unfairly denied admission to UT- Austin and Texas A&M University, in College Station, because their high schools are so competitive.

So far, the Texas plan’s record in diversifying state universities has been mixed.

Earlier this year, officials at UT-Austin, the flagship school, released data showing that Hispanics will make up 16.6 percent of the 2003 fall freshman class, up from 14.5 percent in 1996, the last year before race was prohibited as a factor in admissions decisions. Blacks will make up 3.9 percent of the campus’s freshman enrollment this coming fall, compared with 4.1 percent before the end of affirmative action in 1996.

Meanwhile, UT-Austin has seen students admitted under the 10 percent plan taking up ever-larger portions of its freshman classes. About 75 percent of UT-Austin’s incoming class of in-state freshman for fall 2003 are students whose admission was guaranteed by the 10 percent law, compared with only 42 percent shortly after the 10 percent law was passed, Mr. Faulkner said.

The flood of “10 percent” students has hurt the campus’ ability to admit students by weighing factors other than class rank, he said.

“We’ve asked them to cap it at 50 or 60 percent,” Mr. Faulkner said. Overall, he said, he isn’t seeking a major overhaul of the 10 percent plan. “Basically, the 10 percent [policy] works well,” he said. “As applications have risen, we need to adjust it.”

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a Republican, sponsored legislation to require students to take the state’s recommended high school program before qualifying for automatic college admission under the 10 percent law.

Currently, Texas students can gain entry by taking any of three curricula offered at all Texas’ public high schools: distinguished achievement, recommended high school program, or minimum graduation. The “recommended” curriculum generally mandates that students take a more rigorous set of classes in core subjects.

Though his plan failed over an amendment to cap admissions under the 10 percent rule, he said the bill had broad support, and he predicted it would rise again, possibly in a special session.

“We’re trying to bring equity and fairness to the system,” the senator said. “If you want to go to college, you need to take the precollege curriculum.”

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