As Texas continues to graduate a more diverse group of students from its public high schools, competition for limited seats at the state’s flagship universities grows tighter each year. While not a stand-alone solution to achieving equal access to those universities, the Top Ten Percent Plan has led to greater racial, socioeconomic and geographic diversity of qualified students admitted to and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin).
Rather than further scaling back on the Top Ten Percent Plan, policymakers should explore other equitable policies to complement the Top Ten Percent Plan and support increased college enrollment and completion (see recommendations below).
Increased Access for Underrepresented Groups
Since its inception, the Top Ten Percent Plan has opened doors to students from low-income families, rural communities and communities of color – all groups typically denied access to the flagships. IDRA’s analyses show the following.
- The Top Ten Percent Plan helped increase the number of feeder high schools, excluding charter and private schools, into UT-Austin, from 622 in 1996, to 792 in 2000 (Montejano, 2001), to 992 in 2016, to 833 in 2018 (UT-Austin, 2016; 2019).
- Rural schools continue to benefit from the plan, with UT-Austin admitting a total of 95 students from 88 rural schools in 2018, up from 85 students and 65 rural schools in 2010 (UT-Austin, 2010 & 2018). The plan accounted for 84 percent of admitted rural students at UT in 2016.
- The Top Ten Percent Plan is the principal admissions driver for Latino, Black and Asian American students into UT-Austin, with 84 percent of admitted Latino students coming from the plan, 74 percent for Black students, 74 percent for Asian American students and 67 percent for White students in 2018. In contrast, UT-Austin’s subjective admissions plan disproportionately favors White students, who comprise nearly half of non-Top Ten Percent Plan admitted students but only one of three Top Ten Percent Plan
Impact of the Top Ten Percent Plan by Senatorial Districts
IDRA analyzed UT’s data and the impact of the Top Ten Percent Plan on Texas senatorial districts between 2009 and 2018.
UT-Austin’s Subjective Admissions Plan Favors Schools in Only Six Senatorial Districts
IDRA found that students in six senatorial districts (SD 5, SD 7, SD 8, SD 14, SD 16, SD 17) comprised 56 percent of admits under the subjective admissions plan versus only 32 percent of TTPP admissions.
Eliminating the Top Ten Percent Plan Would Devastate Diversity at UT-Austin
As noted above, UT-Austin’s Top Ten Percent Plan-admitted students and enrollees reflect a far more diverse group than students admitted under the subjective admissions plan. In a hypothetical analysis, IDRA applied the admission rates for non-Top Ten Percent Plan students (disaggregated by race) for the years 2010 through 2016 to the total number of students admitted and assumed the TTPP was non-existent. The results showed that thousands of mostly Latino and Black students would likely have not been admitted, while White students would have been the greatest beneficiaries.
Policy Recommendations for Ensuring Access and Opportunity
A more diverse student body produces educational, social and economic benefits for all students. Diversity fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills, helps reduce racial isolation, dispels racial stereotypes, promotes cross-racial understanding, and builds leadership to prepare students for life after college. A group of Fortune 100 companies called student racial diversity “a business and economic imperative” in the global market (2015).
As IDRA stated in its testimony before the Texas Legislature when the state previously considered the Top Ten Percent Plan, “it is ironic that at a time when expanding global competition requires better-educated citizens, Texas is discussing ways to limit access of its top students to its top institutions of higher learning” (IDRA, 2009). Texas can ill-afford to turn the clock back now as the results would likely be devastating, particularly for communities of color and rural communities (IDRA, 2009). Instead, IDRA recommends the following to ensure equitable access to Texas’ flagship universities.
Maintain the current blended admissions plan (Top Ten Percent Plan coupled with the subjective admissions plan). However, the subjective plan must be examined to ensure qualified Black and Latino students are not being overlooked.
Re-regulate college tuition but ensure universities have adequate resources to help make up the difference. Texas lags in the percentage of its gross domestic product spent on public education, including post-secondary education (SHEEO, 2018; Baker, et al., 2018; Harris, 2012). If the state invests more in higher education, it can begin to reign in high tuition rates.
Provide more need-based financial aid. Texas must ensure students are not only admitted but also can afford to graduate without excessive debt. The state should increase funds for need-based financial aid, like the TEXAS Grant.
Texas must take major steps toward investing in at least five additional major flagship universities. With 80,000 additional students entering Texas schools each year, the state must develop more Tier 1 universities.
Texas must re-align its PK-12 curriculum and graduation requirements with college expectations. High schools must ensure all students receive a rigorous course of study that prepares them for college. Unlike its predecessor, the state’s new default PK-12 curriculum adopted under HB 5 (2013) fails to meet many college entrance requirements and leads to channeling students by race, poverty and geography into less rigorous tracks.
Texas must fund its PK-12 public education system to prepare students for college and a career. Regardless of the Supreme Court of Texas decision on the legal merits of the recent school finance case, the needs of the state’s growing diverse student population have not been met (Texas Taxpayer, 2014 & 2016). Texas must adequately and equitably fund public education to support college-readiness in all public schools.
Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al. (September 2015). Brief of Fortune-100 and other leading American businesses as amici curiae in support of respondents (No. 11-345, affirmative action, consideration of race in University of Texas admissions).
Brief for IDRA as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents, Fisher v. UT Austin (2015) (no. 14-981).
Baker, B., Farrie, D., & Sciarra, D. (2018). Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. Education Law Center.
Harris, A., & M. Tienda. (April 2012). “Hispanics in Higher Education and the Texas Top Ten Percent Law,” Race and Social Problems, 4(1): 57-67.
Holley, D., & D. Spencer. (1999). “The Texas Ten Percent Plan,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (245).
Hopwood v. State of Texas. (2003). 78 F.3d 932 (5th Circuit 1996) abrogated by Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 123 S. Ct. 2325, 156 L. Ed. 2d 304 (2003).
IDRA. (2013). Tracking, Endorsements and Differentiated Diplomas – When ‘Different’ Really is Less (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
IDRA. (March 11, 2009a). Research Relating to Measures that Would Limit the Texas Top Ten Percent Plan (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
IDRA. (March 11, 2009b). Testimony on HB 52 Relating to the Texas Top Ten Percent Plan (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
Montejano, D. (2001). “Access to the University of Texas at Austin and the Ten Percent Plan: A Three Year Assessment.”
SHEEO. (2018). SHEF: FY 2017 State Higher Education Finance. State Higher Education Executive Officers.
Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition, et al., v. Williams, No. D-1-GN-11-003130, 2014 WL 4254969 (Tex. App.-Travis Aug. 2014) reversed in part and affirmed in part on appeal, Morath v. Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition, No. 14-0776 (Tex. 2016) (“Texas Taxpayer”).
The University of Texas at Austin Reports to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House of Representative on the Implementation of SB 175, 81st Legislature, For the periods ending Fall 2009-2016 (various years) (UT).
See infographic: https://idra.news/TTP19ig