The top 10 percent law is designed to increase minority student enrollment. In reality, the top 10 percent law as it currently stands actually harms the students it is designed to help. To better serve minority students, UT should adopt a holistic admissions system. To ensure that minority students are able to attend and thrive at UT, the state should focus on improving the quality of our public schools and expanding financial aid programs for students.
The top 10 percent rule excludes low-income students, because it reduces students down to a single number and ignores special circumstances, such as the student with a lower rank because he or she had to work during high school to support his or her family. The law also excludes students who struggled early on in high school but over time improved their grades. Minority and low-income students are further disadvantaged by this system because many wealthier families move their students to low-performing, low-income schools to ensure their child’s place in the top 10 percent while pushing out low-income students from the top rankings.
Proponents of the top 10 percent law argue that the law boosts minority enrollment on campuses. It is true that since 1997, the Hispanic population at UT Austin has grown substantially — but so has the Hispanic population in Texas as a whole. Additionally, the law has not helped to increase the enrollment of African-American enrollment.
The lack of proportional minority enrollment at UT is because schools in Texas are radically unequal. Lower-income schools do not have the same rigorous college preparatory curriculum as wealthy school districts and do not offer as many AP courses as their wealthier counterparts. The high student-to-teacher ratio in lower-income schools also limits students from receiving extra attention and academic support from their teachers.
We should focus on making sure that a student in an underperforming school receives the same opportunities and quality education as a student in a wealthy school district. The top 10 percent rule is a Band-Aid to this problem. Broader than just college admissions, the state cuts the education budget so severely that our state is in the lower third of states for per-student spending — and that number continues to drop. It is the fault of poor funding for public schools, not college admissions, that keep lower-income and minority students from attending higher-tier universities. If the state instead focused on developing college-ready high school students across the state by improving our education system and ensuring that all schools provide a college preparatory curriculum, then we could ensure that more minority students are accepted to — and graduate from — our flagship state universities.
Improving schools across the state will also be more effective in guaranteeing that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to graduate with a degree in four years and succeed in college. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and students are coming to universities vastly unprepared compared to their peers from wealthier areas whose parents could afford private tutoring, AP classes and other college preparation. The ability to receive a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum should be available and encouraged to all students throughout the state so that all students — whether they came from a low-income neighborhood or a wealthy suburb — have the same opportunity to succeed in college.
The state also needs to make sure that financial aid is available for students who need it. Instead of expanding financial aid to students, the state has cut financial aid programs and further limited accepted students’ ability to enroll at UT. A lack of financial aid negates the purpose of the top 10 percent law. Acceptance to a university does not ensure that the student will be able to pay for it. To follow through on their promise of educational equality, the state needs to make sure that students who are accepted also receive financial assistance to make enrollment possible.
Receiving the admission letter is one thing. Actually attending — and graduating from — a university is another. The top 10 percent rule allows lawmakers to pat themselves on the back for thinking they expanded education access, but not actually solving the real issues that will ensure all Texans are on a level playing field.
Olivia Griffin is a junior Plan II and government major from Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @oglikesdogs.