Texas’ Ten Percent Plan Has Boosted Minority Enrollment
By Hilary Hurd
New freshman enrollment data recently presented by a University of Texas
official in Washington showed that minority representation has increased as a result of the state’s implementation of the Ten Percent Plan. The plan guarantees admission to University of Texas institutions for all Texas high school seniors in the top 10 percent of their class.
The biggest increase in admissions under the percentage plan has been among African American and Asian students, says Dr. Gerald Torres, vice provost at the University of Texas-Austin. However, with fall enrollment at an all-time high of 50,010, the actual proportion of minority students is only slightly higher because the overall student body has increased, he adds.
Nevertheless, Torres says, the retention rates of African American students admitted to the university under the plan have increased as well.
“Ten percenters are performing better overall,” Torres says, adding that these students are maintaining higher grade-point averages, managing their time better, mastering study skills and not hesitating to ask for help.
When a federal court in 1996 declared in the Hopwood case that race-conscious admissions plans were unconstitutional in the state of Texas, university officials were forced to come up with another way to diversify the student body. Previously, the university had used affirmative action measures as another part of the admissions process to achieve a diverse pool of applicants.
As a result of Hopwood, Texas institutions experienced a drop in minority applicants and admissions the following year, but the numbers have rebounded, officials say.
Torres says that the university has been able to “cast a wider net” and actually is more inclusive in terms of accepted applicants because the Ten Percent Plan applies to all high schools in Texas. Some of these high schools have not historically sent many students to the University of Texas system, so the university now has a presence where it once had none.
Prior to the Ten Percent Plan, 150 high schools in Texas were providing 75 percent of the students making up the university’s freshman class.
The university also has begun the Longhorn Opportunity Scholars Program. The program identifies high schools in poor areas that traditionally have not sent many students to the University of Texas or to Texas A&M University and grants scholarships to the students who graduate in the top 10 percent of those schools. There are currently 235 students enrolled at the University of Texas who are Longhorn scholars.
Although University of Texas officials say the plan has made for a “smarter university,” there are critics who question whether a GPA at one high school means the same at another. In short, all schools are not equal in rigor, so is Texas really getting a stronger applicant pool?
Torres says the university has not experienced any problems and that 10-percenters are performing well across all racial lines and majors.
There are also reports that some Texas high schools are rigging class rankings so that their students will be admitted.
Torres says all this evidence is anecdotal and adds that the university’s admissions office is working with high schools and communicating to them that they must develop a method of criteria to rank students.
“The Texas plan seems to say that ‘Even if you come from a crummy school, you can make it,’ which may mean that these schools weren’t that crummy,” says Dr. Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Berry says her biggest criticism of the Texas plan is that it does not apply to law schools and other graduate programs.
California and Florida officials also have implemented percentage plans, but they are attracting much more criticism and scrutiny than the Texas plan.
Under Florida’s “Talented 20” program, the top 20 percent of the state’s high school seniors are guaranteed admission to Florida’s state colleges and universities. Florida is being criticized primarily because it was not under a court order to abandon affirmative action measures, and the state did not consult Florida residents about the plan. In addition, Berry says, this is another program that does not apply to graduate programs, and Florida does not have a program similar to the Longhorn scholars program.
“The way the Florida plan was implemented left a bad taste in people’s mouths,” Berry says.
On the other coast, the University of California recently proposed extending offers of admission to students in the top 12.5 percent of every high-school graduating class in the state. The catch is, the students in the lower percentage must successfully complete two years at a California community college and maintain at least a 2.4 GPA (see related story, pg. 10). California officials say this is another effort to increase the number of minority students at its top campuses, following California voters’ approval of a ban on affirmative action in 1996.
The University of California’s Board of Regents last year approved a plan to automatically admit students from all California high schools who graduate in the top 4 percent of their classes with high scores on standardized tests.
But officials in both California and Texas say they are having a hard time guaranteeing admissions to top-ranked students because state officials have refused to share these students’ names with the postsecondary system.
Citing the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, Texas officials say they are outright prohibited from disclosing such information to higher education institutions, while California officials say they must seek permission from parents.
Texas college officials say they have resorted to buying the names of top-ranked students from the College Board and visiting high schools. This method has drawbacks, however, because the College Board provides self-reported information only from students who took the SAT.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com