February 15, 2008
TEXAS TOP 10% LAW
By: Rute Pinhel, Research Analyst
You asked about the result of Texas legislation requiring public colleges and universities to admit any student in the top 10% of his or her class and whether other states have passed similar legislation.
The Texas legislature passed House Bill 588 in 1997 in response to the 1996 federal court ruling in Hopwood vs. the State of Texas that struck down an affirmative action admissions program at the University of Texas School of Law. The law requires each public college and university to admit automatically any student who has graduated in either of the two preceding academic years with a grade-point average in the top 10% of the student's graduating class. After admitting all automatic qualifiers, the schools must admit other applicants based a number of academic and socioeconomic factors. According to a 2005 report by the Texas House Research Organization, the top 10% law has had the greatest impact at the state's flagship institutions.
Two other states, California and Florida, use percentage admissions policies. California guarantees admission to the University of California system to students who graduate in the top 4% of their graduating class. Florida guarantees admission to students ranked in the top 20% of their graduating class to one of the 11 state universities.
TEXAS HOUSE BILL 588
In 1991, the University of Texas (UT) School of Law implemented an admissions policy that set different standards for white and minority students in an effort to increase minority enrollment. Four students who were denied entrance to the school challenged this program in 1992. The case reached the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the admissions policy on the grounds that it amounted to reverse discrimination.
In response to the court ruling, the Texas legislature passed House Bill 588 in 1997. The law, which became effective on September 1, 1997, requires each public college and university to admit automatically any student who has graduated in either of the two preceding academic years with a grade-point average in the top 10% of the student's graduating class. It gives the schools the option of extending the automatic admission threshold to the top 25%.
After admitting all automatic qualifiers, the colleges and universities must admit other applicants based on all, any, or a combination of 18 academic and socioeconomic factors (Tex. Educ. Code § 51.805). They may consider the applicant's:
1. academic record;
2. socioeconomic background, including poverty status, household income, and parents' education levels;
3. school district's financial status;
4. school's performance level, determined by the Texas Education Agency;
5. region of residence;
6. standardized test scores, including how they compare with those of other students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds;
7. involvement in community activities;
8. extracurricular activities;
9. commitment to a particular field of study;
10. personal interview; and
11. admission to a comparable accredited out-of-state institution.
And they may consider whether the applicant:
1. would be the first generation in his or her family to attend or graduate from college;
2. has bilingual proficiency;
3. had additional responsibilities while attending school (e.g. was employed or helped to raise children);
4. resides in a rural or urban area; and
5. attended a school under a court-ordered desegregation plan.
Lastly, schools may also consider anything else they find necessary to accomplish their mission.
Eligible students can choose to attend either flagship institution- UT at Austin or Texas A&M University at College Station- or any of the other 33 public colleges and universities in the state.
Impact of Top 10% Law
In addition to the percentage admissions policies, UT-Austin and Texas A&M developed outreach and scholarship programs (Longhorn Opportunity and Century scholarship programs) targeted at Texas public high schools that serve economically disadvantaged students. High schools selected to participate in the Longhorn and Century programs are the focus of intense recruitment from the universities. Admitted students from participating high schools are granted a scholarship. The scholarships do not explicitly consider racial composition, but in 2000, 90% of the students enrolled at schools targeted by these programs were Black or Hispanic (“Higher Education Policy as Secondary School Reform,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, September 2007).
According to a 2005 report by the nonpartisan Texas House Research Organization, the top 10% law had the greatest impact at the state's flagship institutions (“Should Texas Change the Top 10 Percent Law?”). At the UT-Austin, the 2003 freshman class was the most diverse in the
university's history. In fall 2004, Hispanic enrollment increased from 16.3% to 16.9%, African-American enrollment increased from 4.1% to 4.5%, and Asian-American enrollment increased from 17.6% to 17.9%.
Minority enrollment also rose at Texas A&M, but did not reach the levels of UT-Austin. In the 2004 freshman class, African American enrollment increased from 2.2% to 3%, Hispanic enrollment increased from 9.5% to 12%.
In the 2007 legislative session, the Texas State Senate passed a bill that would allow universities to cap at 60% the proportion of freshmen they admit under the top 10% program. The House of Representatives rejected a compromise measure the day before the end of the legislative session (Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/8/07).
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, two other states, California and Florida, use percentage admissions policies. A report prepared by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, Percent Plans in College Admissions: A Comparative Analysis of Three States' Experiences, compares the three states' percentage plans and examines how effective each has been toward promoting a racially diverse student body. We have enclosed a copy of this report for your review.
In 2001, the University of California Board of Regents implemented the Eligibility in Local Context (ELC) program, guaranteeing admission to the UC system to students who graduate in the top 4% of their graduating class. The ELC program was designed to (1) increase the number of high school graduates eligible for UC admission to 12.5%, (2) give UC a presence in each California high school, and (3) recognize and reward a student's academic accomplishments in the context of his or her high school and available opportunities (UC Student Academic Services, http://www.ucop.edu/sas/elc/). The ELC program is one of three paths to eligibility in the UC system.
Florida's “Talented 20” policy was implemented in fall 2000 as part of Governor Jeb Bush's “One Florida” plan (Executive Order 99-281), which eliminated the practice of affirmative action in government employment, state contracting, and higher education. Under the program, students enrolled in a Florida public high school who are ranked in the top 20% of their graduating class are guaranteed admission to one of the 11 state universities, but not necessarily the university of their choice. Talented 20 students are also eligible for priority funding from the Florida Student Assistance Grant, a need-based financial aid program.