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Minority enrollment creeps upward at Texas universities: new recruitment strategies and the 10 percent law credited with upturn

New recruitment strategies and the 10 percent law credited with upturn

Black and Latino enrollments are beginning to edge
upward again at public universities in Texas after the severe drop
caused by the 1996 Hopwood decision, which dismantled affirmative
action at Texas’s public universities.

Officials at the University of Texas (UT), its law school, and
Texas A&M University say they feel encouraged by the demographics
of the incoming class.

“I think there’s every reason to be encouraged by what we see,” said Bruce Walker, UT-Austin admissions director.

Walker attributes the slight upturn in minority admissions for fall
1998 to three things: a new state law that requires public universities
to accept anyone who is in the top 10 percent of his or her high school
graduating class; vigorous recruiting efforts by the university
community; and alumni fund-raising campaigns to increase financial aid
earmarked for minority students.

Walker’s office estimates that the 1998 freshman class will be
approximately 3 percent Black. Last year’s class was 2 percent African
American. Chicanos/Latinos will make up 14 percent of 1998’s freshmen
as compared to 12 percent in 1997. There will be a total of 6,070
freshmen reporting to the UT-Austin campus in the fall.

About 80 percent of the new law school class has been chosen, said
Mike Sharlot, dean of the UT law school. So far, offers of admission
have been given to seventeen African Americans, as compared to eleven
for all of last year. That number was down from sixty-five in 1996, the
last year the law school was able to use its affirmative action program
to promote Black and Mexican American enrollment.

So far, forty Mexican Americans have been given law school
admission offers. Last year forty offers were extended to Mexican
Americans for the entire year. The year before, under affirmative
action, seventy Mexican Americans received law school admission offers,
said Sharlot.

At Texas A&M, 146 African Americans thus far have confirmed
that they will attend Texas A&M in the fall. This compares with 129
at this time last year. Although that is a 13 percent increase, A&M
officials warn that they changed the admission schedule and that
increase may drop by as much as 5 percent when final figures are

Also, 567 Latinos currently have said they will become A&M
freshmen in the fall. Last year at this time, that number was 515. This
represents a 10 percent increase.

But the figures also show a much larger group of acceptances
overall — a total of 6,983 compared with 5,332 at this time last year.
As a result, the percentages have decreased for incoming Hispanics
(down to just over 8 percent from 9.6 percent the previous year) and
incoming Blacks (down to 2 percent from 2.4 percent the previous year).

Help from the Legislature

The entering class of 1998 is the second to be chosen under post-Hopwood restrictions on affirmative action.

The Hopwood decision is named after Cheryl Hopwood, one of four
Whites who sued the university claiming that they had been unfairly
rejected by the law school because of its affirmative action program.
Soon afterward, state Attorney General Dan Morales interpreted the
ruling to mean that public universities could no longer offer minority
Scholarships and other financial aid. The case has been in court for
several years and involves a series of rulings.

Recently, a U.S. district court judge awarded Hopwood and her
co-plaintiffs $1 apiece in damages, determining that she and the others
would not have been admitted to the UT law school even if the
affirmative action program hadn’t been in place. The judge also ordered
the university to pay their attorney’s and court fees.

The UT system’s regents decided to appeal the Hopwood decision.
However, because Morales has refused to appeal on the state’s behalf,
the regents’ appeal is being handled by the Houston law firm of Vinson
& Elkins. The firm has worked on UT affirmative action cases for
several years Without receiving a fee. a contribution that university
staff members said is worth millions of dollars.

Black and Latino state legislators tried to lessen the impact of
Hopwood by pushing the 10 percent law through the state legislature.
University officials and legislators are optimistic that the law will
boost minority enrollment because of widespread de facto segregation in
Texas schools. The new freshman class is the first to be chosen with
the new state law in place.

“We got some help from the legislature. Rather than wringing their
hands and sitting on their hands, they did something,” said Walker,
adding that it is a bit too early to tell what impact the law will have
on increasing the number of minority students at the public
universities. “There are still a lot of (high) schools that aren’t
familiar with the law.”

Walker said the university has tried to use students to get the
message to minority high school students that they are still wanted on
campus. The university obtained a list of 13,000 of the 17,000 high
school seniors in the top 10 percent of their classes across the state,
and UT students made telephone calls to most of them to let them know
about the new law and chat with them about UT.

University staff members and students visited high schools in areas
— such as the Rio Grande Valley, Houston, and Dallas — where large
numbers of African Americans and Latinos live. Groups of high school
students from these areas were brought to the campus and invited to
spend the night in dormitories to sample the campus atmosphere.

Lane Stephenson, A&M’s deputy director of university relations,
said that the new 10 percent law has allowed A&M to get students
through the application process earlier in the year, which accounts for
its larger overall enrollment numbers.

Other Adjustments

There were also workshops for high school counselors in ten major
cities to make sure they understand the new state law, Walker said,

In addition, UT is still operating its six outreach centers across
the state with Texas A&M University. The centers contact children
as early as sixth grade and work with them to encourage the kids to go
to college, possibly at UT or A&M.

To blunt the impact of the ban on scholarships and financial aid to
minority students, Walker said the UT Ex-Students Association formed a
private foundation to award minority scholarships. In one year, the
organization raised more than $3 million, including $2 million for
undergraduate and law school recruiting donated by prominent lawyer Joe

Walker said that the university also awards financial aid to
students who have overcome obstacles in their lives to achieve success.
Many of these students are children of single-parent or very large
families, are the first in their family to attend college, or face
other circumstances that might have produced obstacles to doing well in

The law school made adjustments to its application procedures as
well, said Sharlot. Now applicants are allowed to write essays that
describe some adversity they had to overcome in life … including
discrimination. Applicants whose files impress the admissions committee
are being invited to Austin for inter-views. By the time the process is
completed this year, Sharlot said that about 400 people will have been
invited to Austin.

Law school recruiters made visits to major historically Black institutions in Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and Nashville.

But Sharlot said that the ultimate solution to increasing the numbers of minority law students lies in court.

“To tell the truth, I don’t think there is any way we can achieve
the level of diversity we had in the past under Hopwood. That’s why
we’re appealing,” he said.

Until Hopwood is overturned, UT officials said, Texas’s public
universities are at a severe disadvantage in recruiting minority
students — a task that is critical in a state that will soon be one of
the first in the nation to have no racial majority group.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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