Affirmative Action at the University

The Texas legislature came up with a fairly fair way to achieve equity in the university. They guaranteed admittance to the top 10% of students in every high school in Texas. Most of those want to go to University of Texas: Austin. Today’s Inside Higher Ed is covering the new limits to the ten percent plan.

The “10 percent” plan in Texas has been one of the most successful experiments ever tried to get more minority students into top public universities with race-neutral criteria.

In the admissions process for the class that will enter in the fall, 86 percent of Texans admitted were admitted on the basis of being in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Even at a university where out-of-state admissions are minimal (only 7 percent this year), Powers said that’s not enough flexibility for the university.

Even though the university attracts outstanding students through 10 percent admissions, Powers said, there are gaps. There are not enough students enrolling that way who want to major in key areas such as geosciences, computer engineering and education. Earlier this year, Powers also suggested (in an argument that received plenty of attention from non-academics in Texas) that 10 percent was making it difficult to recruit athletes in key sports, since many of the best athletes are not in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

To those who question why there is any need to tinker with a system that has resulted in considerable diversity (45 percent this year are members of minority groups), Powers said that “there is a capacity problem.” Texas has nearly 50,000 students in all. Without a change in the admissions law, “we’d have to become a 55,000 student university, or 60,000 or 65,000 and there are no resources to do that.” (The original law applied statewide, but UT-Austin, the focus of the changes in the law, is the only university where admissions under 10 percent have become a major issue.)

It is hard to get in UTAustin if you want to go there, though Texas A&M could easily expand its acceptance and few indeed apply to other colleges in Texas.

But they found something that works and want to throw it away now. And they will have the freedom to do that.

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