UT President Gregory Fenves said for 20 years the top 10 percent rule has sent a clear message to Texas students: “Perform well in high school, and you can go to the flagship university of the state.”
Senate Bill 2119, authored by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would get rid of this law established in 1997 and allow public state universities to determine their own admissions criteria for all their applicants. Although no action was taken on the bill during the Higher Education Committee meeting Wednesday, a vote from the committee could come as soon as next week.
Current law says a student who graduates in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school class is granted automatic admission to any public institution of higher education across the state. Seliger said in actuality this law has mainly applied to UT-Austin and Texas A&M University.
“I believe our top-tier institutions such as UT and Texas A&M should not be mandated to use only a student’s class rank to determine a majority of their freshman class admissions, nor should they be directed by the state on who to admit,” Seliger said.
In 2009, the Legislature passed a law that stated at least 75 percent of the university’s freshman class had to be automatic admit students because of the overwhelming number of applicants. This effectively lowered the top 10 percent requirement for UT to between 7 and 8 percent. During his testimony, Fenves thanked the Legislature for this change and said UT-Austin has filled the remaining 25 percent of spots well.
Last June, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Fisher v. University of Texas that the University’s holistic admissions process for filling the non-automatic admission seats was constitutional. If SB 2119 passes, Fenves said the University will continue to use their holistic review process and recruit students from diverse backgrounds.
“Our admissions process will always reflect our mission and our core values while serving the state,” Fenves said. “Individual students whose personal achievements exemplify these core values will always be considered for admission.”
Seliger said when the top 10 percent law was passed, its intention was to better diversify institutions of higher education, but the Legislature should continually consider if this law is the best way to accomplish that goal.
The committee substitute, or revised version of SB 2119, would require each public institution report to the Legislature the demographics of admitted and enrolled students. Seliger said this was added to ensure that institutions are diversifying their student body.
Raymund Paredes, the commissioner of higher education, said this reporting requirement is essential.
“I think the testimony by the president and provost of UT-Austin (that their) commitment to diversity will not wane but instead increase is something that we will be able to monitor and suggest adjustments if that turns out not be the case, which I expect it won’t be,” Paredes said.
While Paredes said it’s hard to precisely say what the effects of the top 10 percent rule have been on minorities, there was agreement that the law has helped rural students. Since the law was adopted, Paredes said the Hispanic population at UT has increased, but so has the general population in the state. Paredes also said while the Asian American population across the state has been stable, the number of Asian American students at UT has tripled. As for African American students, Paredes said the population in Texas and enrolled at UT has remained flat.
If Seliger’s bills passes, Maurie McInnis, UT’s executive vice president and provost, said UT will continue to automatically admit 75 percent of their incoming class for the next two years and will continue some form of automatic admission for two years after that as a transition phase.