by Albert Cortez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 1997

Dr. Albert CortezAchieving greater diversity within the student enrollment at colleges and universities has been a long-standing goal in many states. One strategy employed by many institutions has included the use of racial and ethnic factors in admissions and financial decisions. In March of 1994 the use of such criteria was challenged in a federal district court in Texas in Hopwood vs. The State of Texas. While the district court upheld the use of such criteria, its decision was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled that, in the way it was being done at the University of Texas’ law school at the time of the original suit, consideration of race or ethnicity resulted in unlawful discrimination against White applicants.

The Hopwood case highlights issues of access to educational opportunity and of what may be considered for college and university admission. Traditionally, most institutions of higher education have placed heavy emphasis on college entrance examination scores such as the SAT or the ACT. They have supplemented these criteria with such things as rank in graduating class, extracurricular participation, letters of recommendation, essays and personal goals statements.

Despite attempts to diversify the bases for admission and financial aid decisions, college admission data reflect that minorities and low-income students continue to be disproportionally excluded from most institutions of higher education (with a few notable exceptions).

The commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) formed a special advisory committee to develop guidelines that could be used by colleges, universities and the coordinating board in admission, financial aid and other decisions on campuses in Texas to achieve diversity among student bodies and to ensure adequate representation of minorities and other groups “to be certain that our work force, professional practitioners and general population are prepared for the future and are representative of our state as a whole,” (THECB, 1997). The following provides a summary of that committee’s report released on January 16, 1997.

Considering New Factors

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s advisory committee on criteria for diversity recognized the importance of considering both quantitative and qualitative information. According to its report, several issues related to race and ethnicity should be considered:

    The racial ethnic history of Blacks and Hispanics, their socio-cultural and economic reality, the quality of public school education most minorities have received, campus [college or university] readiness for their incorporation and the reception that many minorities have experienced in colleges or universities are all important considerations in racial ethnic minorities’ preparation for entry and success in higher education (THECB, 1997).

The committee report later notes that factors such as financial aid, standardized tests, limited and/or underfunded academic and support services “have presented formidable barriers with disastrous results for many cultural minorities seeking access to post-secondary educational institutions in Texas” (THECB, 1997).

Also, according to the report, the committee’s members originally explored the feasibility of using up to 15 distinct criteria to make decisions relating to admission and financial aid for students seeking admission to colleges in the Texas university system. The original list included the 15 variables listed within the left column in the box on page 3. Once the major variables were identified, the group researched the availability of data bases that could be used for analysis to project impact. Based on data availability, the initial list was reduced to the 10 factors listed in the right- hand column of the box on page 3.

The committee calculated the number and percentage of all students and minority students who would be eligible for college admission if that criteria were used as the sole basis for the admission decision. The findings of these various analyses are summarized in the table below.

The table shows that use of four of the factors would result in the highest number of students (from the total population) 25 years old and under who would be considered eligible for college admission. These factors are: (a) having parents with less than a college degree, (b) being at or below 200 percent of the poverty level for a family of four, (c) living and having to attend a school in a property-poor school district and (d) living in a central city or rural low-income area.

The factors found to yield the largest proportion of minorities within categories differed slightly. The factors that would result in the highest number of eligible minority students are: (a) living in a home where a language other than English is spoken, (b) living in a family below the poverty level, (c) having parents who did not graduate from college and (d) residing in South Texas or the Upper Rio Grande Valley.

In addition, the committee examined combinations of factors that would yield the largest number of underserved populations in Texas. Committee members noted that, within the limitations of available data and the analyses that were conducted, several combinations of factors merit further consideration. These promising combinations include:

  • socio-economic conditions related to poverty, income and educational level of parents; and
  • single parent status, living in a home where a language other than English is spoken, and having parents who did not graduate from college.

Other factors found to be “useful in identifying populations in need” include:

  • residence in Texas’ central cities and/or selected regions, including South Texas and Upper Rio Grande Valley; and
  • school enrollment in low property wealth school districts and/or districts with concentrations of low-income students and students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs.

Another recommendation related to the admission and financial aid practices that would support increasing diversity was to decrease the emphasis or weight given to SAT and ACT scores.

The committee was careful to note that no single factor could ensure levels of minority access comparable to the levels that were being achieved by using racial and ethnic background as a factor before the Hopwood appeal decision. Given this critical finding, the committee stated that the use of multiple criteria for the combining or totaling of several factors to yield an eligibility score (or rating) merits consideration. They noted that a combination using poverty level income and parents’ level of education would result in a large number of eligible students from underserved populations and would also result in 50 percent more minority group members considered eligible.

Even though the use of certain factors would significantly increase the total number of students who might be deemed eligible, the report noted that simply increasing the pool of eligible students would not ensure the greater inclusion of minority students. This is because minorities constitute different proportions of the population in specific categories. For this reason, the choice of which of the 10 or 15 criteria to use will require consideration of factors that increase the numbers of persons considered eligible and that include sizable concentrations of minority and low-income populations within their totals.


The advisory committee’s report presents the following eight conclusions:

  • While numerous criteria may be useful in identifying segments of the population in need, no single criterion will result in the same level of inclusion achieved prior to Hopwood.
  • Historically, the state of Texas has not effectively implemented public policy designed to achieve diversity.
  • Citizens of the state of Texas do not fully appreciate implications of changing demographics, and they go beyond resisting facts to ignoring or procrastinating in developing solutions.
  • Institutions using selective admissions have been perceived as inhospitable to minorities, possibly decreasing minority applications to those institutions.
  • Use of standardized tests unduly limits admissions and has a chilling effect on motivations and aspirations of underserved populations, and the tests should be used as only one part of any selection process.
  • Concerns related to access are often limited to focusing on admissions. Full access must include developing goals (and data) related to student retention and graduation.
  • Full access transcends merely expanding admissions criteria. It must also include making adequate financial resources available.
  • Unless the socioeconomic conditions of the state’s minority populations change, more remediation and financial assistance will be required.

The advisory committee closed its report with a series of recommendations sub-divided into four groups: (1) the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and areas in which they have jurisdiction, (2) legislative action the board should consider proposing, (3) institutional actions and (4) actions recommended for colleges and public grade schools. The specific recommendations are outlined in the box on Page 5. The 19-page report has been submitted to the THECB for its consideration and action.

The committee’s recommendations are a significant improvement upon the generally more conventional policies used in many Texas colleges and universities. However, something is missing in the broad-ranging recommendations. There are no processes for holding colleges and universities accountable for producing the results.

In Texas, public schools for kindergarten through 12th grade are subjected to extensive scrutiny and are held accountable for achieving state prescribed targets in such areas as student achievement, attendance and dropout rates. The Texas public school accountability system includes stringent school rating and reporting requirements that make the accountability system among the most highly rated in the country. While improvements in student performance in some schools are attributable to the efforts of committed educators, the sanctions and accountability provisions no doubt provide additional incentives for schools to improve.

Most college and university systems are not held to anything near that level of accountability. In Texas, as in most other states, higher education is minimally accountable. High attrition rates and lack of diversity in most state-supported institutions are blamed on others such as students, parents and grade schools.

IDRA believes that higher education institutions, like elementary and secondary schools, merit being held accountable to state developed targets related to inclusion and graduation. Development of that system should be inclusive and participatory, meaning that all key stakeholders should have an opportunity to provide input in the design of the system. Once it is designed and implemented, the next challenge will be to fend off attempts to dilute accountability by manipulating numbers or creating exceptions to reporting requirements, as has been the experience in the public school system.

Talk of accountability unfortunately makes many people who are vested in the higher education status quo extremely uncomfortable. The immediate reaction is to point to successes and emphasize all the reasons that heightened expectations may be perceived as unreasonable. The Hopwood case has had the unforeseen effect of causing many to look closely at the extent of exclusion that characterizes Texas higher education, and thus we have an unparalleled opportunity to revamp the system in ways that make access fair and equitable to all students. The recommendations made by the THECB’s committee on diversity merit serious consideration by policy makers at all levels. IDRA will monitor developments in this critical area to see if the work and careful thinking reflected in the report are given due attention or if they are merely given lip service in a system committed to maintaining an unequal system of education.

Possible Criteria for Diversity in Higher Education Admissions

Original Criteria Revised Criteria Based on Data Availability
  1. Socioeconomic status
  2. First generation college status defined as (a) parents are not high school graduates or (b) parents are high school graduates
  3. Bilingual proficiency
  4. Attended financially poor [low property wealth] school district
  5. Attended “low performing” school
  6. Middle or high school home responsibilities
  7. Leadership experiences
  8. High school employment experience
  9. Region in state
  10. Lives in central or inner-city poverty area
  11. Lives in rural poverty area
  12. Percentile rank within income categories
  13. Single parent family
  14. Non-traditional student, including older age
  15. Standardized test scores
  1. Socioeconomic status, including household income and parents’ level of education
  2. First generation college status
  3. Bilingual proficiency
  4. Financial status of students’ school district
  5. Performance of students’ school as indicated by criteria used by the Texas Education Agency
  6. Students’ responsibilities including working, raising a child and similar factors
  7. Region of residence within Texas
  8. Residence within rural, urban, central city, and suburban areas of Texas
  9. Effects of alternative use of ACT and SAT scores
  10. Students’ ACT and SAT rankings within socioeconomic levels
Advisory Committee on Criteria for Diversity, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 1997

THECB Advisory Committee’s Recommendations for Diversity in Admission and Financial Aid

Recommendations for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Require use of parent income levels (200 percent of poverty level), parents’ educational level and property wealth of students’ school district in admission and financial aid decisions.

Propose that SAT exams be used for student counseling, but not used for admission decisions.

Formalize agreements with SAT and ACT administrators to facilitate tracking of students’ college application processes.

Allow use of parent income as a factor for awarding all institutional discretionary financial aid and specify that such discretionary money will be allocated through a needs-based program that attempts to meet the largest percentage of need identified for individual students.

Report annually on the progress made in implementing the recommendations adopted in the report.

Recommendations for Legislative Action

Allow the Texas Education Agency and the coordinating board to share student data to allow for tracking the in-state and out-of-state post-secondary enrollment of Texas public school students to help assess the impact of the appeals court

Hopwood decision and the effects of using alternative criteria for admission and financial aid.Revise the Equal Educational Opportunity formula to provide financial incentives for enrolling students from underserved populations.

Provide additional needs-based financial aid to students who are admitted, including allocating special state financial aid to students allocated less than 90 percent from other sources.

Recommendations for Colleges and Public Schools

Eliminate tracking procedures and other practices that limit opportunities of minority and underserved students in public schools.

Design college preparatory courses and programmatic experiences to benefit minority and underserved students. Eliminate terms such as remedial education. Start support programs early and continue them through the early years of post-secondary education. Ensure that courses and programs are culturally relevant.

Recommendations for Institutional Action

Establish criteria for admission and then select students from the eligible pool by lottery.

Require that institutions proposing to use criteria for greater access of underserved populations to provide empirical evidence that the proposed criteria will actually maintain or increase access for disadvantaged groups.

Ensure that teachers and professors acknowledge the history and culture of racial and ethnic minority students in all efforts, including curriculum. Give high priority to minority faculty, faculty development and transculturation activities for all staff members and administrators.

Provide development opportunities so that teachers and professors recognize that the family, the leadership structure and African American and Mexican American communities and other underrepresented minorities must be involved in the education of minority students.

Devise continuous outreach and recruitment efforts targeting underserved populations.

Make fully available to racial and ethnic minority and underserved populations financial resources, academic support services and student advisement, and career counseling programs.

Foster a welcoming environment for all students. Allow the operation of offices for multicultural affairs, centers for cultural studies, and minority-focused groups and associations. Support adequate funding levels for such offices.

Provide economic incentives to colleges and universities and special incentives for community-based organizations and minority-based associations to promote achieving a diverse student body that reflects Texas population trends.

Make needs of nontraditional students the priority in designing new instructional programs and schedules. Provide such students financial aid and support.

Develop initiatives, compile strategic plans, assess and monitor changes on campuses to ensure cultural diversity, including monitoring progress related to designated timetables and specific measurable results.

Organize conferences and seminars to focus on issues of diversity.

Advisory Committee on Criteria for Diversity, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 1997


Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Advisory Committee on Criteria for Diversity, “Second Status Report.” (Austin, Texas: THECB, January 16, 1997).

Dr. Albert Cortez is the director of the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]