Precinct 333

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Will Texas Keep 10% Law?

Here in Texas, graduating in the top 10% of your high school class gets you an automatic berth at any state college or university. Now there is talk of eliminating or modifying it. That sort of talk is appropriate, as it was adopted to replace affirmative action following a court decision which (temporarily, it turned out) banned such programs. But there have been complaints about inequities in the program, including the problem with using a single measure to determine whether a student is eligible to enter the college of their choice.

Citing the unfairness of the law and the way it forces some students to take a lighter course load or even transfer to a different high school, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed a bill this week to eliminate the rule altogether.

"The top 10 percent law is inherently unfair because it uses only one criteria on which to either accept or reject applicants to institutions of higher education in Texas," Wentworth said. "It would be like saying, 'We are not going to consider anything but your SAT score,' and that would be wrong, too."

The top 10 percent rule was enacted after a 1996 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas. But last year, a U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying race could be used as a factor in admissions for public universities.

Since then, officials at the University of Texas at Austin have said they will consider race, while Texas A&M University officials said they will not.

"The reason we passed the top 10 percent rule in 1997 was in reaction to a federal judge's order," Wentworth said. "But that federal judge's order was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, so we don't need this anymore."

In other words, the very reason for adopting the program in the first place doesn’t exist. That should be reason enough for eliminating it, at least if a campus plans on reinstituting race-based admisions. But then again, this is government. Since when does a program go away because it isn’t necessary? After all, once a program is created, it has a constituency that will fight its elimination tooth-and-nail.

I personally like the proposal to modify the program that has been floated by Rep. Rob Eissler.

Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, has filed a bill that would allow UT and A&M officials to choose what campus to place a top 10 percent student in. For example, instead of being guaranteed admittance to the flagship in Austin, UT officials could admit a student to the San Antonio campus.

That makes sense to me – graduating in the top 10% should guarantee you a spot in the particular system, but not necessarily allow you to pick which campus. If your grades are high but your admissions test (SAT, ACT, or THEA) results in a score below a certain threshold, you probably don’t belong in Austin at University of Texas. This would also solve the problem we’ve had with kids who have a 1560 SAT and a 3.7 GPA from a top high school (such as Bellaire High School in Houston) finding themselves locked out of UT and A&M because they were not in the top 10% of their class because they took AP or IB courses, while others took average classes and graduated higher in the class. The advantage to this would be that students will be better matched to the campus they attend.

There are, of course, objections to any changes being made. But I hope enough members of the legislature will see the sense in Eissler's proposal to make it law.


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