Texas Senate Scales Back Top 10 Percent Law

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

March 25, 2009

The Texas Senate yesterday approved legislation which will limit a controversial law guaranteeing automatic admission to state universities for students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high schools.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the original bill, passed in 1997, was meant to ensure access to minority groups. But school officials at the University of Texas in Austin claim that the law has caused 81 percent of the freshman spots to be filled by students admitted by the top 10 percent law. Consequently, UT has been unable to admit other promising students who have skills in art, music, athletics, math or leadership but don't fall into the top tier.

"It has become a crisis for us," said William Powers, president of UT, who was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman. "We're simply out of space."

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, UT officials fear that the proportion could rise to as high as 86 percent next year, and 100 percent within four years. That would also force the university to refuse admission to students from out-of-state and foreign countries.

"No other institution in the state has their hands tied behind their back as to who they can and cannot admit as students," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, who authored the bill and was quoted in The Dallas Morning News.

The new bill, which faces a final Senate vote today before moving on to the State House of Representatives, would allow universities to limit the number of students admitted under the 10 percent policy to no more than 60 percent of their freshman class. After that, admission would be left to the schools' discretion.

The Dallas Morning News notes that even if the law is approved, most students who make up the top 10 percent would very likely be able to gain admission to some public Texas college. But if the bill is approved, UT could theoretically begin cutting back on such automatic admissions by the fall of 2010.

Critics of the measure fear that fewer minority groups will be admitted to top state schools as a result. But the Houston Chronicle [from an article originally located at http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6338406.html] reports that Powers noted that the university already uses affirmative action, which he said is a preferable and more flexible route to diversity.

Shapiro remarked that UT would be the only state institution presently affected by the law, but in the next few years it would likely restrict student admissions at Texas A&M University and University of Texas at Dallas as well.

A surprise amendment added to the bill yesterday would provide full scholarships to low-income students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high schools and attending a state college or university. Another amendment would cause the law to expire after eight years unless the Legislature extended it.

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