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University of Texas Admissions Law Could Face Change

University of Texas Admissions Law Could Face Change

AUSTIN, Texas 
If it weren’t for the top 10 percent law, says Dr. Monte Geren, many of the most successful students in his school district wouldn’t make it to a Texas university.

Geren is superintendent of La Vega Independent School District, a relatively low-income area in central Texas. Eliminating the law, which guarantees students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes automatic admission to public universities, would likely punish students for factors beyond their control — such as the location and wealth of the school they attend.

“The fact of the matter is that in many instances the curriculum is more limited, facilities and other resources are limited, and we feel it would be a detriment to not have that opportunity just because students didn’t have the opportunity to attend one of the better high schools that have all those things,” Geren told lawmakers.

The state Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education heard testimony about how Texas’ admissions laws affect racial, ethnic and geographic diversity in the state’s public universities, as the committee examined one bill that would repeal the percent law and others that would fundamentally change it.

The university admissions law was adopted after a 1996 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas college admissions. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision, allowing universities to use race as one of many decision-making factors.

The top 10 percent law primarily affects the state’s flagship universities, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University in College Station, where enrollment is most selective.

Administrators at UT Austin have lobbied long for changes in the top 10 percent law. They say a more holistic approach would allow for accurate assessment of student qualifications and for a more well-rounded student body.

More than 60 percent of the 2004 UT Austin freshman class was admitted under the law, says university President Larry Faulkner. Within a few years, he says, all freshman slots will be filled with top 10 percent graduates.

At TAMU, about 47 percent of the 2004 freshman class was admitted under the top 10 percent law, says Dr. Robert Gates, the university president.

Despite their misgivings, both presidents agree getting rid of the law is not a good solution.

“There are positive aspects to the top 10 percent law in our view,” Gates says. “It encourages students to perform well in high school and come to college better prepared. It encourages some students to think about coming to college who might not otherwise, especially encouraging students from all geographic areas of Texas.”

But capping admissions under the top 10 percent law would provide officials needed flexibility, Faulkner and Gates say.

During the 2003 legislative session, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, filibustered a bill that would have provided such a limit.

Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, has filed the bill this year, but the proposal has not been offered in the Senate.

— Associated Press

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