In Texas, students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high-school class are automatically admitted to the UT system. This was how Texas complied with the Hopwood ruling in the 1990s, which banned racial preferences (at least temporarily). Today, Texas finds that it’s looking for merit in all the wrong places:
Here in Texas, the 10 percent solution has worked reasonably well in achieving diversity without running into Supreme Court restrictions on affirmative action. Of the freshmen at the flagship campus here, 18.7 percent are Hispanic and 5.2 percent are black, roughly the same proportions as before the 1996 court ruling in Hopwood v. Texas.
But the formula has also had unintended consequences that the Texas Legislature is now wrestling with; it has become the tail that wagged the dog, university officials suggest. Seventy-one percent of the 6,864 Texans in the freshman class are top 10 percenters, compared with 41 percent in the first year the formula was used. That steady growth has frustrated college officials who have seen their flexibility to admit high school class presidents, high SAT scorers, science fair winners, immigrant strivers, artists and the like narrow.
“At some point you have to ask yourself, do you really want to admit your whole class on a single criteria,” said Bruce Walker, the admissions director at Austin. “It doesn’t give you the opportunity to recognize other kinds of merit.”