A college admission policy aimed at getting more minorities into the best public universities is actually helping admit more white students from rural high schools

May 15, 2009

10% rule helps rural students, study finds
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Wednesday, June 24, 2004

Some believe that the rule is unfairly squeezing good students out of the flagship universities, but the study indicates that that perception is wrong.

The top 10 percent plan, which guarantees students who graduate in the top tenth of their high-school class admission to any Texas public university, has dramatically increased geographic diversity at the best universities.

Rural college applicants have a 45 percent better chance of getting into Texas A&M University than applicants from metro areas, and a 50 percent better chance at the University of Texas at Austin, according to a study from the Texas Top 10 Percent Project based at Princeton University.

Some politicians are pushing to modify or abolish the plan. Many parents and students from wealthy communities with better-funded high schools complain that the plan unfairly forces them out of flagship universities to make room for students who they say did less work but were in the top 10 percent at less rigorous high schools.

The Senate will hold a hearing today on the rule, which the Legislature adopted in 1997 to boost black and Hispanic enrollment at the two flagship universities. The rule was instituted less than a year after a circuit court ruling effectively banned affirmative action in Texas higher education.

Minority groups eager to preserve the modest gains the 10 percent rule has given them say they want to join rural communities to protect the plan.

“This is not just a black or brown issue,” said Anna Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens.

Rep. Robert Cook, D-Eagle Lake, chairman of the Legislature’s Rural Caucus, said he believes rural representatives see the 10 percent rule as a success and would be open to working with LULAC and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Most of the rural members that I talked to support what’s going on because we realize it’s beneficial to the rural area,” he said. “If something truly is benefiting rural Texas, certainly we are going to cooperate in any way we can.”

The flagship universities have been trying to boost minority enrollment since the late 1990s with aggressive outreach and generous scholarships targeted at mostly minority high schools.

This has helped increase Hispanic enrollment to slightly more than the relatively small presence they had at the flagships before affirmative action was banned. Black enrollment at the flagships in 2003 was slightly less than 10 years before.

Blacks and Hispanics at the flagships totaled 13,185 last year. Total enrollment at the two universities was 96,239.

UT initially embraced the 10 percent rule, but now it’s worried. Kedra Ishop, associate director of admissions, said this year’s freshman class is 65 percent automatic admissions. She said that’s a saturation that robs university officials of their ability to build a student body in a meaningful way.

“One criterion — class rank alone — doesn’t necessarily equate to admitting the best class,” she said.

UT plans to practice affirmative action in admissions next year now that a 2003 Supreme Court ruling allows them to do so. UT officials want a cap on the number of 10 percent students it’s required to admit.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the higher education subcommittee chairman who will lead today’s hearing, expressed openness to a cap if top 10 percent students from underrepresented high schools are given some kind of admissions preference.

Frank Ashley, A&M’s acting assistant provost for enrollment, said his university hasn’t felt the 10 percent crowding as acutely as UT has. He said numbers show that students admitted under the 10 percent plan perform well academically at A&M, and the university will not take a position at today’s hearing.

In May, Gov. Rick Perry called for a revision of the plan, saying it’s causing Texas to lose some of its best students to out-of-state schools.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, introduced legislation to kill the 10 percent rule last year, but West defeated it in a filibuster.

“We’re losing some very bright prepared students who went to very challenging schools who took tough courses and made very good grades and still can’t get into the two flagship institutions in Texas,” Wentworth said.

Lori Pelton said her 17-year-old daughter, Cortney, an accomplished student at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, won’t even apply to UT or A&M.

“She basically says, ‘Why apply? I’m not in the top 10 percent, so what are the chances of getting in? There are a lot of other good schools, so why not apply there?’ ” Lori Pelton said. “I know a lot of her friends feel the same way.”

Scholars insist that there’s no data to back up this claim.

The study found that most good students not in the top 10 percent of well-funded schools get enough grooming to gain admission to the flagships with impressive essays and extracurricular activities.

“There was no evidence of adverse impact for the groups that are criticizing the plan,” said Marta Tienda, the lead scholar at the Texas Top 10 Percent Project. “Over 90 percent of the second decile who wanted to go to UT and A&M actually went there.”