Texas House votes on controversial plan for college admission

May 15, 2009

House bill caps 10 percent rule
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The House version must be reconciled with a Senate bill before any changes will take place.

AUSTIN — Lawmakers are moving toward making it harder to get into the University of Texas at Austin, the state’s most popular university.

The House voted 80-66 Tuesday to cap the number of students public universities are required to accept under the top 10 percent rule at two-thirds of a freshman class.

The top 10 percent rule, an 11-year-old law aimed at bringing more student diversity to Texas’ best colleges, guarantees a spot at any public university to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

The requirement has had a major effect on UT-Austin, where 71 percent of the current freshman class was admitted under the rule, according to university statistics.

The top 10 percent rule has been somewhat of an issue for Texas A&M University, but much less so for other public universities.

UT-Austin administrators have said the rule has forced them to accept a huge number of students under just one criterion. They say the rule robs admissions officers of the flexibility needed to build an incoming freshman class in a thoughtful way.

A bill that passed the Senate 28-2 on May 4 would only require public universities to accept half their new students under the top 10 percent plan. Both bills would have a university reach its cap by admitting the top 1 percent students first, then the top 2 percent, then the top 3 and so on until the cap is reached.

A conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers will now have to hash out the differences between the two versions.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, long resistant to tinkering with the top 10 percent rule, said he believes some kind of cap can come out of a conference committee because the House bill has a sunset provision for 2015 that many lawmakers will find attractive.

But other lawmakers with large minority constituencies fought to keep the rule in place as a way to open the doors of higher education to all groups.

“The top 10 percent rule has created ethnic diversity” at Texas two flagship universities, said Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas. “It’s in place right now, it’s working. Why replace it something we don’t know?”

But Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, who pushed for the bill’s passage, said it is unwise to have UT-Austin admitting so many students on just one criterion.

“I don’t think you should use one criteria for all of your admissions,” she said.