Texas Maintains Top 10% Admissions

University Testing

FairTest Examiner - July 2007

An unusual alliance of African-American, Latino and rural white legislators has blocked efforts to roll back the Top 10% admissions policy, which helped the University of Texas (UT) system maintain and expand undergraduate diversity in the wake of restrictions on affirmative action imposed by the Supreme Court's Hopwood decision (see Examiner, Summer 2002)

Under the Top 10% plan, students who graduate in the top tenth of any Texas high school are automatically admitted to the state university campus of their choice - without regard to test scores or other factors. For all other applicants, ACT or SAT results are only a minor factor in the selection process.

Politicians representing wealthy suburban communities, along with some academic leaders, argued that the Top 10% plan had become "too successful." At UT-Austin, the state's preeminent institution, more than 70% of entering first year students are now admitted under Top 10% rules. Critics said this leaves too few seats for other talented applicants, particularly those with high test scores but mediocre grades. Some implied that the rule forced the university to turn down "Texas' best and brightest," forcing them to enroll out of state.

Yet ongoing UT research found that Top 10% students posted stronger college grades and required no more remediation than their classmates who entered with better test scores but weaker high school records. In fact, Top 10% enrollees performed as well as their non-Top 10% classmates who had entered with SAT scores 200 to 300 points higher.

At the same time, Latino enrollment in the Texas university system surged. The African American campus presence also grew, albeit more slowly. At UT-Austin, the portion of first year Latino students jumped from 13% in pre-Hopwood 1997 to 19% in 2006. For African Americans, the gain was from 5% to 7%.

After months of contentious debate in legislative committees and in the news media, a variety of proposals to cap "Top 10%" admissions at between one-half and two-thirds of future first-year classes moved forward, apparently with majority support in both the Texas House and Senate. However, impassioned floor debate and backroom negotiations led a number of legislators to switch their positions.

On the House final vote, about a dozen and a half Republicans, most from small towns, joined with African American and Latino Democrats to shoot down any change. A key motivating factor was data demonstrating that the Top 10% requirements encouraged diversity of all sorts, not only race. For example, the number of Texas high schools sending students to UT-Austin increased by more than a third under the plan. Rural and inner-city districts, in particular, saw their representation increase significantly.

The defeat of all proposals to limit Top 10% admissions means that the current rules will remain in place at least until the next legislature meets in 2009, barring a special session. In the interim, some state leaders have begun advocating creation of a third "flagship" state campus to accommodate well-qualified students for whom there is no space at either UT-Austin or Texas A & M. Expanding enrollment capacity is more likely to enhance equity and academic excellence than an arbitrary cutback of Top 10% admissions.