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Why the Texas ten percent plan is worse than traditional affirmative action:

In 1996, US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held, in Hopwood v. Texas, that the use of racial preferences to achieve "diversity" in college admissions is unconstitutional. In response, the Texas state legislature adopted the "Ten Percent Plan," a "race-neutral" way to achieve the desired proportion of minority students Texas' state universities without resorting to explicit consideration of race in admissions. The ten percent plan gives any high school student who is in the top 10% in his high school class automatic admission to any Texas state university, regardless of standardized test scores, the content of the classes he took, the strength of his high school, extracurricular activities, and other considerations.

The Ten percent plan was endorsed by then-Texas governor George W. Bush and has since been touted by the Bush Administration and others as a superior alternative to traditional affirmative action plans that rely open racial preferences; similar plans were later enacted in California and Florida. As this recent New York Times article points out, the ten percent plan succeeded in returning the percentages of African-American and Hispanic students in Texas state universities to roughly their pre-Hopwood levels - largely because many minority students attend schools where blacks or Hispanics are in the overwhelming majority. Unfortunately, however, the ten percent plan has negative side-effects and perverse incentives that are considerably worse than those of traditional affirmative action, including racial quotas.

First, it often leads universities to admit students that are probably inferior to those they would have chosen otherwise:

But the formula has also had unintended consequences . . .; it has become the tail that wagged the dog, university officials suggest. Seventy-one percent of the 6,864 Texans in the [UT Austin flagship campus] 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."

To be sure, this result could happen with traditional racial preferences as well. However, the ten percent plan affects a great many more admissions decisions than even the most rigid old-style affirmative action systems do. Rarely, if ever, do traditional affirmative action plans determine the admission of more than 15-20% of a school's student body. By contrast, at the University of Texas at Austin, over 70% of the student body was admitted under the ten percent plan. While some of these students would surely have gotten in anyway, it is highly likely that the ten percent plan leads to much larger sacrifices of academic merit than do racial preferences similar to those used at most other academic institutions.

Second, and probably much worse, the article notes that the formula creates perverse incentives for students to try to game the system by transferring to weaker schools or taking easier classes. While neither the article nor other evidence I have seen provides precise data on the numbers of students who do this, the effect may well be large. When I lived in Texas in 2001-2002, I met quite a few people with high school-age children who had switched to weaker schools in order to take advantage of the plan, or were considering doing so. Obviously, there is no similar perverse incentive created by traditional affirmative action. With a system of racial quotas or "plus factors," both white and minority high school students still have incentives to go to strong schools, in order to maximize their college admissions chances.

Third, the tradeoffs inherent in the ten percent plan are less transparent to both students and the general public than those involved in racial quotas. As a result, it is more likely that harmful effects will remain unmonitored and undetected. If public universities are going to strive for racial diversity, the costs and benefits of doing so should be as transparent as possible.

Finally, the ten percent plan also has the effect of disadvantaging high-achieving minority students who go to strong schools and - in part for that reason - fall short of the top ten percent in their class. Not only are these students disfavored relative to minority students attending weaker schools, they are also disfavored compared to whites in weaker schools as well:

[T]he formula has meant that the university may neglect desirable black and Hispanic students, as well as white students, who attend lustrous high schools but may not finish in the top 10. Marcus Price, a black finance major, for example, graduated from the High School for Engineering Professions in Houston, a competitive magnet school, with a 3.4 grade point average that included three A.P. courses. But with so many college-bound students to compete with, he ranked only in the top 20th percentile.

"I thought it was funny that you could go to a less competitive school, score a total of 800 or 900 on your SATs and get into U.T. at Austin as long as you were in the top 10 percent," said Mr. Price, who scored 1200 on his SATs.

Some, perhaps including President Bush, would argue that the ten percent plan is still preferable to traditional affirmative action because racial preferences are intrinsically wrong, regardless of consequences. Perhaps they are. But if it is morally wrong to aim for a given racial balance in a state university student body by using explicit racial preferences, why is it not equally wrong to intentionally try to achieve the same effect through indirect, facially "neutral" means? In the days of Jim Crow, southern states often used facially neutral policies such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and peonage laws to disadvantage blacks. Few today would argue that these policies were somehow morally superior to those Jim Crow laws that discriminated against blacks through explicit racial classifications. If, as critics of affirmative action claim, explicit affirmative action preferences are morally wrong for the same reason that Jim Crow laws were wrong, then "facially neutral" affirmative action systems such as the Texas ten percent are wrong for the same reasons that the facially neutral means of propping up Jim Crow were.

If we want to ensure that some set percentage of university admissions slots go to particular minority groups, far better to do so through traditional affirmative action, than by means of the Texas ten percent plan.

UPDATE: I would like to briefly respond to three points raised by commenters. First, many claim that it's not possible for high school students in Texas to game the system by switching to weaker schools because of the distances involved. Texas is indeed a large state, but much of the population lives in several large cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, etc.) where there are many high schools close together, and gaming the system more than possible.

Second, some claim (in contrast to the first group) that this kind of gaming would be a good thing because it might move good students to weak schools and thereby improve education for students trapped in the latter. This argument would be more compelling if it were not for the extensive empirical evidence against it. For example, numerous studies such as David Armor's Forced Justice (1992) show that efforts to bus in stronger students to poorly performing inner city schools had little or no impact on education quality. Merely introducing a relatively small percentage of superior students into a poorly performing students is unlikely to have a significant impact on those students already there. There are many better ways to improve education for those students trapped in the worst public schools, most notably school choice.

Third, several people claim that it is contradictory that I argue that the negative impact of the ten percent plan might go "undetected" yet simultaneously note several negative effects that clearly have been detected. I was guilty of a loose use of terminology. Because the ten percent plan is more opaque than traditional affirmative action, the general public (which lacks the time and incentive to follow policy issues closely) is less likely to notice its perverse effects than those of old-fashioned AA. That doesn't prevent their being noticed by experts.

NOTE: in 2001-2002, I clerked for Judge Jerry E. Smith, the Fifth Circuit judge who wrote the court's opinion in Hopwood five years earlier. I don't think this has any real connection to the merits of the ten percent plan, but I mention it to forestall the likely claim that my criticism of the ten percent plan is somehow inappropriate because I am "hiding" this fact.

zooba:
A lot of the criticisms you outline seem connected not to the basic system, but the specific percent cutoff of 10%, combined with increasing enrollment. You could adjust the cutoff each year so that the % of "top X%"ers admitted stayed relatively the same % of the class. Either that or increase the class capacity to make up for the increased enrollment.

The gaming the system works no matter what. If you have a system that is senstivie to the quality of high school, people will try to go to better high schools. If you have one that is insensitive, they will go to weaker high schools where their GPAs / relative performance could be higher.
12.16.2006 3:45am
Ilya Somin:
The gaming the system works no matter what. If you have a system that is senstivie to the quality of high school, people will try to go to better high schools. If you have one that is insensitive, they will go to weaker high schools where their GPAs / relative performance could be higher.

I agree. But absent the 10 percent plan, the system would in fact prefer people who went to stronger high schools, other things equal.
12.16.2006 3:53am
Ilya Somin:
A lot of the criticisms you outline seem connected not to the basic system, but the specific percent cutoff of 10%, combined with increasing enrollment. You could adjust the cutoff each year so that the % of "top X%"ers admitted stayed relatively the same % of the class. Either that or increase the class capacity to make up for the increased enrollment.

I agree you could do that. But it would undermine the goal of trying to achieve the same level of black and Hispanic representation as existed prior to Hopwood. Moreover, even a "2 percent plan" or "5 percent plan" would still create some perverse incentives to attend weaker schools, though they would not be as strong.
12.16.2006 3:55am
PersonFromPorlock:
For a somewhat different approach to the same problem, how about a modest tax on employing college graduates? I'll bet a lot of employers would suddenly find they didn't need college-educated employees after all, making good jobs available to non-degreed minorities and majorities alike and completely mooting the college admissions problem.
12.16.2006 7:56am
ed in texas (mail):
The problem here seems to circle around having a non-quota method to have a quota.
The ultimate solution would seem to be to fix the varability at the high school level, but no one appears to want to take that approach. The problem is one of making a general case solution fit the marginal case, and the answer is, you can't.
I also recall that a few years ago UT Austin proposed placing premium fees on students of plus 4 years that hadn't got their bachelor's degree yet, i.e. those who found student life a little too congenial.
12.16.2006 8:17am
Ted Frank (www):
Has CIR and the like considered challenging the program on the grounds that it was designed to discriminate against whites? It certainly has a disparate impact on Jews and Asians, who are not dispersed evenly among schools.
12.16.2006 8:19am
Houston dude:
It might be that 10% is indeed too high, but I see several advantages in the 10% concept that go beyond race and diverity, and the plan had my full support when it was enacted.

College has always been an opportunity for many people to improve rheir lives, and it is not easy. There are too many people that cannot afford anything but their local high school, much less the $15,000 a year a good private school in Houston goes for. There are too many that live hundred of miles aways from a magnet school. There are many high school students that try to make the best of the hand that has been dealt to them, but they cannot play somebody else's hand.10% allows kids from all over the state, from rural areas, from the panhandle or the Valley, those whose parents are janitors in the big cities, or single mothers working the night shift at the local BurgerKing, or many more.

So yes, their high school is not Bellaire High (Houstonians will recognize that one), but it is the only one the State of Texas made available for them. It would be better if all high schools in the state were of that same quality. But they are not, and they wont be. What kind of opportunity do we owe the overachievers all over the state, in terms of college access?

I understand that this blanket solution discriminates against overachivers from the best state schools, but, unlike college, those schools are not available for anyone that wants to get in. You worry that people will move to less demanding schools to game the system. I doubt many people will throw away the opportunity to be in a good high school and move to a bad one, so I would not care about the fringe that would actually do that (opening a space in the good school for someone that actually wants to learn, so is not a bad outcome after all.

As a solution, perhaps UT should allocate a set percentage of their freshman class (say 40%) to the top X% graduates of any TX highschool, with X varying each year. That way you can let in more of the true overachievers that are now being discriminated against, while still giving a fair chance to those that have no access to the good high schools.
12.16.2006 8:25am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think that you need to determine whether the goal is diversity, racial spoils, or a top student body. If you want a racial spoils system, then you do what most schools do today, which is to give racial points or preferences based on a kids race, regardless of the school attended. Thus, the black kid from a top prep school will be admitted long before a comparably scoring white kid from an inner city or border public school. And obviously, if you want the top performers, then ignoring race, etc. is best.

But the beauty of the Texas 10% system is that it is most likely to provide the most real diversity. Not the pretend diversity of admitting Black kids from top prep schools over White kids from middling schools, but the real diversity of admitting as many kids from the poorest school districts as from the richest. Admitting kids from on the border right along with those from the poshest areas of Dallas, or high tech Round Rock.

In response to the suggestion that parents and their kids will game the system by picking high schools, my answer is fine. That would presumably go a ways in reversing the "white flight" so bemoaned, and possibly result in more real diversity in high schools. So, instead the program increases real diversity in HS instead of college. BFD.

But also keep in mind that parents and kids are only going to game it so far. They aren't going to ship their kids from Houston down to the border just for this. Indeed, they may not be willing to ship them that far for this. One or two schools over, but I don't see it likely that parents would ship their kids all the way across town just for giving them a better shot at UT.
12.16.2006 9:32am
Slocum (mail):
You've missed some of other perverse incentives. Top 10% of the class is by GPA, which creates a powerful incentive to take easy rather than challenging classes (and easy, rather than challenging teachers). It also further ratchets up the pressure on high-school grades and, effectively, outsources the function of UT Austin's admissions committee to high schools and high-school teachers. And the incentives are misaligned between getting into Texas state schools and succeeding once there (e.g. the easiest route is through less challenging courses at a weak high-school) and it's also misaligned with what it takes to get into other selective schools (no schools outside the Texas state system are going to be impressed by a student that got into the top 10% by transferring to a weak high school and/or taking cake courses but, as a result, didn't learn a whole lot and has marginal SAT/ACT scores).
12.16.2006 9:32am
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):

Seventy-one percent of the 6,864 Texans in the [UT Austin flagship campus] 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.


First, that still leaves 39% for all the "special" categories -- by far more flexibility than anyone uses.

Second, the top 10% at a school tends to be the most disciplined part. It leads to a more disciplined and studious student body. In many ways, I think the current students are more deserving than the ones they got before -- far few "floaters."

A caveat. I live in Plano, Texas, an area that has been hurt in admissions to UT due to the 10% rule. (But if you are in the top 10% of a school you ought to be able to get into a state school -- otherwise the primary school system has failed you.) My attitudes are affected by some essays by people whose kids suddenly found getting into UT a challenge, but who interviewed teachers who were teaching the changed composition classes and noted that the students they got were more serious students.

Just FYI. The reality has a substata that is important.
12.16.2006 9:34am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Let me add to my last point the obvious, Texas is not a small state. Rather, it is by far the largest w/i the contiguous 48. The distances involved would significantly reduce the chance of gaming the system by picking less well performing schools. Yes, you might have some of this in the biggest cities. But the distances are just too big for that to be pragmatic through the rest of the state.
12.16.2006 9:40am
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
My oldest son graduated last year from one of the best and largest public high schools in Texas, ranked in the top 15, but not the top 10, percent. He took almost exclusively honors/college prep courses, at a significant cost to his GPA and class rank. He's a National Merit Scholar, which I think translates into roughly the top 3% of the 1.4 million students who've taken the PSAT nationally. But for the 10% rule, I have no doubt that he'd have been snapped up by the University of Texas at Austin.

With the top 10% rule, we had no such assurance, and indeed had been told that his odds were pretty grim. The University of Houston, by contrast, took one look at his grades and SAT scores and immediately offered him a complete four-year scholarship -- tuition, books, lodging and meals -- for their Honors College program, conditioned only on his accepting the offer promptly.

I know my son will do well at U of H, and it's nice to have him across town instead of half-way across the state. But is it fair that he be penalized for racist practices in Texas that were mostly from a time before I was born? Is it a good thing for either him, the University of Texas, the students there, or the taxpayers of this state that he not get a spot there, and that a less well qualified student (who's more than likely from a small town, small school without remotely the same academic excellence) instead fill that spot?

I'm a UT-Austin grad in addition to being a parent of four, and I admit to not being very objective on this subject. But from my un-objective point of view, this sucks as a matter of constitutional law, public policy, or any other viewpoint.
12.16.2006 9:51am
JeanE (mail):
This program was an effort to provide outstanding high school students throughout the state of Texas the opportunity to attend the state college of their choice. It is not a perfect program, but surely we can make modifications rather than simply throwing it out.

Texas A&M is in a similar situation as UT Austin. They have recently implemented another way to increase opportunities for students from less priveleged backgrounds. They have additional scholarships for students from families whose parents never attended college. Many of these students will be from minority families, due to the historical discrimination against minorities, but it will also benefit the Asian students whose parents immigrated, and the WASP kid from rural Texas who will be the first in his family to go to college.

I would like to see more students going to the community and junior colleges first, then transferring to the big state schools. These two year schools are an outstanding transition from high school to college, especially for students who attended high schools that only marginally prepare students for college work.
12.16.2006 10:02am
Porkchop (mail):

Marcus Price, a black finance major, for example, graduated from the High School for Engineering Professions in Houston, a competitive magnet school, with a 3.4 grade point average that included three A.P. courses. But with so many college-bound students to compete with, he ranked only in the top 20th percentile.


1. Do Texas Schools add quality points to AP course grades? Does UT recognize them? Most that I am aware of add .5 or 1.0 points to the grade for an AP class (leading to those 4.5-on-a-4.0-scale GPA's). If so, then a 3.4 overall GPA really isn't very impressive. Is there any basis to believe that, in a system based entirely on academic performance, this kid have been admitted?

2. Not to be unkind, but an "engineering magnet school" student with only 3 AP classes isn't particularly impressive either. One of my daughters attends a science-and-technology high school in Virginia. By the end of her junior year, she will have completed 5 AP classes and intends to take at least three more next year. She is typical of the students at the school. The average SAT score at my daughter's school was 1475 last year. A top-20-percenter at an "engineering magnet school" with a 1200 SAT really doesn't blow me away. The kid sounds like a a somewhat above average student -- again I ask, would he have been competitive at a top college, as UT-Austin purports to be?

I wonder whether there is some overhyping of the Houston school's program and whether the kid was really pushing himself in his course selection. Is admission to the high school competitive? I.e., do they get the best and the brightest? If so, then being in the top 20% is a real achievement. If it is a collection of average kids who happen to be somewhat interested in engineering or in graduating from a school with an impressive name, then it is much less impressive.
12.16.2006 10:08am
pete (mail) (www):
I think the main problem with the Texas 10% program is that they included UT Austin in it. UT Austin is far and away the best public undergraduate university in Texas and as such should have higher standards for admission than the other public universities in Texas.

I doubt nearly as many people would be complaining if we were talking about letting the top 10% into Texas A&M, University of North Texas (where I went to graduate school), Texas State, UT Dallas, UT San Antonio, UT El Paso, etc.

Either they should remove UT Austin from it entirely or at least lower the percentage to 3-5%. If in the future the other universities improve themselves in quality sufficiently they could be removed as well.
12.16.2006 10:11am
Moira (mail):
I live in Texas (moved here 5 years ago) and my daughter is graduating this year. I like the 10% system for a few reasons. As stated above, not everybody gets to choose which HS they go too. This gives everyone a chance. As for gaming the system, in my daughter's school they weight the AP classes, so that you will get a higher GPA with the tougher courses. Of course, everyone is always trying to game the system, or there wouldn't be SAT coaches and essay writers, etc. Since we're not from Texas we don't have the 'emotional' ties to the different schools and that is what drives a lot of people to hate this system. I don't even want to think about how UT Austin would handle admissions, it is PC heaven there. I do know that this way my kids (white, Jewish) have a chance to get in there, which I don't think would be the case otherwise.
12.16.2006 10:12am
FantasiaWHT:
@Bruce- Doesn't that just show that rural students are highly disadvantaged compared to urban students because the rural students CAN'T "game" the system by choosing to go to a worse school?

I also wonder how much the "taking easy classes" cheat is offset by making honors or AP classes based on a 4.33, 4.50, or 5.0 scale.

Lastly, I don't think the Top 10% is any better or worse than outright traditional affirmative action because they both assume diversity über alles
12.16.2006 10:30am
LTEC (mail) (www):
Is a "weaker" school one with worse teaching and with more inflated grades? If so, it will NOT in general help me to be in the top 10% if I transfer there. It WILL help me to have higher grades and lower SAT scores.

If, however, a "weaker" school only means one with worse students, then it WILL help me to be in the top 10% if I transfer there. As someone else has pointed out, this may not be a bad thing.

Lastly, I think a Poll Tax -- which discriminates against all poor people -- IS better than overt racial discrimination.
12.16.2006 10:31am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I don't have much empathy for UT Austin. A little real diversity would probably do them good. Not PC diversity, but the type of diversity of admitting a lot of border and inner-city kids.
12.16.2006 10:31am
LK Bonham:
Re: the comment that the 10% rule may encourage integratation at the SH level . . . yeah, right.

The way it usually works (according to friends of mine who teach at some of the top prep schools here in Houston) is that a student goes to a "top" high school (private or public) for 3 years, and then transfers to a really abysmal public high school across town or in a neighboring district for his senior year.

Such students then coast through their senior year (often attending as little as possible, and rarely participating in extracurricular activities), and because they have had years of top-flight education they usually wind up easily in the top 10% of the graduating class. Ergo, automatic admission to UT or A&M. And with UT in-state tuition being dramatically lower than schools of comparable quality, there's a huge financial incentive for parents to game the system.

Of course, each student who games the system in this way comes at the price of a student from the lousy high school (i.e., the intended beneficiaries of the program) who gets bumped out of the top 10%. And if you think that doesn't breed a lot of resentment, you're kidding yourself.

I attended UT (undergrad and law school) in the early 80's, and saw firsthand the horrors of the quota system that was ultimately invalidated by Hopwood. That system sorely needed to be abolished. But what has replaced it — the 10% rule — has truly turned out to be as bad or worse.

LKB in Houston
12.16.2006 10:34am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"If, as critics of affirmative action claim, explicit affirmative action preferences are morally wrong for the same reason that Jim Crow laws were wrong, then "facially neutral" affirmative action systems such as the Texas ten percent are wrong for the same reasons that the facially neutral means of propping up Jim Crow were."

No. There is nothing morally or constitutionally wrong with a state or school trying to achieve equality of admission between blacks and whites. They just can't do it by using race as a direct factor. Would you question the constitutionality of programs to prop up inner-city schools because they're disproportionately black? Of course not. The ends behind affirmative action aren't the problem... just the means.
12.16.2006 10:37am
Porkchop (mail):

Would you question the constitutionality of programs to prop up inner-city schools because they're disproportionately black? Of course not.


Actually, I think I would prefer to think of it as propping up inner city schools because they are disproportionately bad.
12.16.2006 10:47am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
FantasiaWHT

My suggestion that this scheme may well increase real diversity is based on the fact that there is a lot more real diversity between kids from the very poor schools on the border and those in the rich suburbs, than between blacks and whites attending the same schools in the same rich suburbs. Texas is a big state, with demographics ranging from dirt poor recent immigrants through rural farmers through inner city to high tech. And it is likely that the 10% solution matches those demographics much better than any other system I have seen here.

But note my assumption - that two kids living next door to each other and going to the same school are much more alike, regardless of race, etc., than are two kids who live 400 miles apart. And that if diversity is the goal, then admitting kids of the same race from two different high schools is much more important than admitting two kids of different races from the same high school.

Another assumption is that Texas is big enough that it is difficult to game this system, and so most kids go to the nearest high school, regardless of their chances of getting in whichever state school.
12.16.2006 10:49am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
LK Bonham

The reason that I am suspicious of your suggestion of how the system is being gamed is that the kids transferring into the worst schools would have their grades from the best schools averaged in. But in the best schools, they are competing with the best students, and thus most likely had lower grades. Yes, they ace their senior year, but BFD. That may help a little, but 2/3 to 3/4 of their HS grades (depending on whether we are talking 3 or 4 years of HS) are against the better students.

Of course, the top private schools most likely don't fully curve their grades, after all, D and F students are typically shown the door fairly quickly, if they get in in the first place. Of course, it is much harder to justify this non-curving at the better public schools. And even at the private schools, there are plenty of Bs and Cs so that the colleges can distinguish between the best and the rest.
12.16.2006 10:58am
dearieme:
Is it wise to send your little darlings to a University where the admissions director supposes "criteria" to be a singular noun?
12.16.2006 11:02am
DW:
We've lived in Dallas for the last 20 years, and have had 3 kids gradute from public high school here. One thing that we've noticed is how aggresively universities from neighboring states are recruiting Texas high school students. For example, one of our kids wants to be a vet. For us, geographically, the choices were Texas A&M, LSU or Oklahoma State, with A&M being the first choice.

Our kid was 5 spots below top 10%, so had to sweat out the competition for the 30% of admissions slots available after the top 10% spots were awarded.

In the meantime, OSU and LSU admitted him immediately into their honors program and offered big tuition breaks. We finally received the letter of acceptance to A&M - but not after almost giving up from having to wait so long, and deciding on LSU. My nephew, who attended one of the top high schools in our area, ended up going to A&M as his second choice (he had a 1430 SAT) because he finished just out of the top 10% and couldn't get into UT.

Ironically, one of the unintended beneficiaries of the top 10% rule in Texas is my almamater, the University of Oklahoma. Some great kids that can't get into UT or A&M because of the top 10% rule are going to OU, where out of state tutition is equivalent to in-state tutition at UT and A&M.

OU is now number one in the nation per capita among public universities in the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled. Seven hundred National Merit Scholars currently are enrolled at OU. A lot of them are from Texas.
12.16.2006 11:02am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
No. There is nothing morally or constitutionally wrong with a state or school trying to achieve equality of admission between blacks and whites. They just can't do it by using race as a direct factor. Would you question the constitutionality of programs to prop up inner-city schools because they're disproportionately black? Of course not. The ends behind affirmative action aren't the problem... just the means.
As to your suggestion that morally there is nothing wrong with equality of results based on race, speak for yourself. I do find it offensive morally. If you want to prop up inner-city schools, then fine, I can live with that. Ditto for poor rural schools. But giving a rich Black whose ancestors came from Jamaica preference over his HS class mates because of the pigment in his skin is offensive to me.
12.16.2006 11:04am
john44232:
We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the unintended consequences of the 10% plan pale in comparison to the evils of the pre-Hopwood regime. By keeping race out of admissions, the 10% plan is undoubtedly an improvement, imperfect as it might be.
12.16.2006 11:07am
USMC Ken (mail) (www):
This post reads like one of those arguments that a high school Lincoln Douglas debater makes when forced to argue a side of a proposition that he disagrees with. “Resolved: The Texas 10% plan is inherently worse than a system giving preference to racial minorities.” The debater makes points that look like they affirm the proposition or argue against the inverse, but don’t really. Further, the entire argument rests on the idea that there is a substantive difference between colleges.

Regarding the first point: “it often leads universities to admit students that are probably inferior to those they would have chosen otherwise.” Maybe, but, then, so does the proliferation of colleges. If UT-Austin was the only state college in Texas, and could only admit the Valedictorian from each HS class, you would have an erudite group of scholars pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake, or some such. But the reality of the situation is that lack of a college degree is a barrier to entry into many fields, state colleges serve the constituents of the state legislatures, and colleges exist to employ academics. So an academic or a frustrated university booster who can’t get his kid into his alma mater may complain that the hallowed classrooms are sullied by the presence of “inferior” students, no one else actually sees this as a problem. People do their four years to get a degree, legislators get their constituents kids into college, and administrators justify the employment of so many academic. Everyone wins.

Regarding gaming the system: Give me a break. Show me one student or family with the wherewithal to plan and execute such a move in order to get into the top 10% of one school when they couldn’t qualify in another, and I will show you someone who could have used that effort and research time to get into some other school that would meet their requirements. Or, here is another challenge: show me one student or family that has actually done this. I can just imagine the thought process: “My kid will finish in the 11th percentile at Plano East, so I am going to drive him everyday to Carter so he can qualify to go to UT-Dallas.” Nonsense.

Can a “harmful effect” of a policy really be “undetected?” And how does arguing that support your proposition? “Your honor, my client will argue that harmful effects of the actions of the defendant have gone undetected and we can’t really say what they are, but take our word for it.” Um, no.

The last argument against the 10% policy is the most interesting, because of all the biases built into it. The primary objection seems to be that poor Mr Price is somehow disadvantaged if he is forced to study finance at University of Houston instead of UT-Austin. Is there any rational basis to make such an objection? Is the education at one state school quantifiably better than at another? Can we say that geologists who graduate from UT-Permian Basin are 8% less likely than those from UT-Austin to detect oil in a particular area? Do lawyers who graduate from George Mason write briefs that are 14% less compelling than those from UCLA? No, of course not. This argument is all about perception of the relative worth of the school, a perception that is completely divorced from any objective criteria. To argue that one school is “better” than another without telling us the criteria upon which this argument is based, is just not compelling.
12.16.2006 11:09am
The Monster (mail):

“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.

At some point I have to ask myself whether a person who doesn't understand that the word 'criteria' is the plural of 'criterion' should be making decisions about who is worthy to attend an institution of higher learning.

I know, I'm a Grammar Nazi. But I'm not picking on Bubba Ray that works in oil fields, or Wanda Jean, the cashier at "Wal-Mart's [sic]". This guy is the gatekeeper for a major university.

With that out of the way... a rational tweak for the Ten Percent Solution is to allow the top schools in the state system to keep higher standards, and get the Ten Percenters who fail the other criteria (heh) into community colleges for remedial work, with the goal of getting as many as possible transferred if they get good enough grades to warrant admission as juniors.

It doesn't do minority students any good to get them into schools where they're likely to fail. If you really want to help them, you'll hold them to the same standards as everyone else.
12.16.2006 11:14am
Modest Proposer:
Hey, I have an idea! How about we get rid of all of these tricks and ploys to treat people differently because of their skin color? How about if we treat people solely as individuals and not concern ourselves with their skin color or ancestry?

Maybe we could even have an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to guarantee people equal protection under the laws? Sounds like a plan!
12.16.2006 11:19am
epoh (mail) (www):
Just FYI - when I applied to UT and A&M in 98, neither school accepted weighted GPAs. I had a 3.6, but all my classes were AP or honors. Didn't matter in the GPA slot. You did, however, send your transcript, so I'm sure they took those into consideration.

I wasn't in the top 10% of my class (an excellent school), but I had a decent GPA, lots of AP classes (and scores of at least 4 on 4 tests) a 1350 on my SATs and a 33 or something on my ACTs. I got accepted to UT, A&M and Trinity. I don't know what top-10 percentage was at that time though.
12.16.2006 11:20am
Matthew Gross (mail):
I think the main problem with the Texas 10% program is that they included UT Austin in it. UT Austin is far and away the best public undergraduate university in Texas and as such should have higher standards for admission than the other public universities in Texas.

I doubt nearly as many people would be complaining if we were talking about letting the top 10% into Texas A&M, University of North Texas (where I went to graduate school), Texas State, UT Dallas, UT San Antonio, UT El Paso, etc.

Either they should remove UT Austin from it entirely or at least lower the percentage to 3-5%. If in the future the other universities improve themselves in quality sufficiently they could be removed as well.


I think you have UT Austin confused with Texas A&M.
12.16.2006 11:23am
Al (mail):
It was my understanding that, after Grutter, UT quickly reinstituted its policy of racial preferences. If so, does UT now use both the 10 percent plan and a racial preference policy?
12.16.2006 11:26am
WG:
What most commenters here are missing is that Hopwood has been overturned, and Texas universities are again using race as an admission criteria.

Yet they have still kept the top 10% rule. The rule has been kept in place by a coalition of rural and minority urban legislators who see the advantage for their local students, even if it is unfair to higher-achieving kids in good schools.

The result is that the quality of the UT student body is declining, with the university's quality, funding, and reputation likely to follow.

This session, there is talk of limiting the top 10% admittees to only 50% of the freshman class, which would convert it into a top ~7% rule.

The bottom line is this is crude meddling by rural lawmakers to give their poorer students an advantage over better students at better schools, a disaster overall. Most of the students I know at top Austin high schools like Westlake, Westwood, and Anderson High don't game the system by transferring. They just end up not going to UT.
12.16.2006 11:28am
JosephSlater (mail):
I don't know whether to be surprised or not that the following criticism of the 10% solution has yet to be made. Proponents of the 10% solution, assuming they believe it will promote racial diversity, are likely assuming that there will be continuing, pervasive segregation in the schools. Now, maybe that dismaying assumption is correct, but we should at least think about it.
12.16.2006 11:33am
PQuincy (mail):
Several posters have alluded to the underlying problem that the 10% solution highlights: the quality of education in American public high schools varies enormously from school to school. Moreover -- and here's the disturbing correlate -- schools with larger populations of African American or Hispanic students, in particular, are much more likely to be among the weaker schools. If this correlate were not true, the 10% plan would have not have the effect on college student diversity that it intends. In a way, then, the 10% plan is a band-aid that attempts to counteract the gross inequality among high schools.

I'm not disputing that the variation in high schools correlates not only with students' racial background, but also with poverty: poor schools do worse than rich ones, and this disparity in fact accounts for much of the total variation in schools...again, highlighting the fact that African Americans and Hispanics (but also rural people) are much more likely to be poor than suburban and exurban populations, (which are more likely to be primarily White/Anglo/Caucasian, as well.)

Indeed, another way of coping with the risk that bans on overt affirmative action -- whether Hopwood or the California Prop. 187 -- will lead to de facto racially segregated elite public universities, is to use poverty and socio-economic background as markers. This has been an important factor in the University of California's response to Prop. 187: in admissions to this selective university (and especially to more selective campuses), factors such as family income and whether an applicant's parents attended any college are used to favor some qualified applicants over others. (To clarify: the UC system in principle admits all students in the top 12% of high school graduates statewide to the system -- but not to any particular campus. As a result, some campuses have additional, higher admissions requirements, whereas others admit any UC-qualified student). California also has its own version of the 10% rule, but it conforms to what some posters have suggested here: the UC "in your class" ranking needed for automatic admission is much lower than 10% (I can't remember the exact number).

I'd therefore argue that as long as we are incapable, as a society, of providing good quality high school education to all who want it -- and no one can argue that we do this now! -- some kind of adjustment to public university admissions are justifiable to make up for our failure. Pure "merit-based" admissions to competitive public universities (on whose definition of 'merit'?) would currently result in amplifying the socially damaging consequences of our failure at the high school level. Consequently, a definable and legitimate public purpose is served by such expedients as the Texas 10% rule. I take that purpose to be that public universities should strive to distribute the resource they represent among all of those who would benefit most from them. Students of high intellectual capacity who attend poor public schools stand to benefit a great deal, more than middling students from excellent schools, who will probably thrive anyway, and therefore may be favored by adjustments away from a pure SAT+GPA-defined version of 'merit'.

At the same time, careful design of such expedients, and corrections that minimize the ability of some to 'game' the system, are essential: such tactics should not be written in stone or turned into entitlements, and they should be subject to regular review to ensure that they fulfill their intended purpose as efficiently as possible.

(Just as a side-issue: I wonder if the option of 'gaming' the Texas system by sending your kids to a 'poor' high school may actually contribute to improving the underlying problem: after all, the parents of such students will now have some interest that their child's new school at least be safe, have working bathrooms and present and competent faculty, and so forth...thus helping to create a constituency for fixing the weaker schools).
12.16.2006 11:41am
Bart (mail):
As with all quota plans which do not use academic qualifications as the criteria, the 10% plan shares the same faults as do racial preferences - students who are not prepared to do the work are admitted to the most demanding universities over more qualified students who could do the work.

Does anyone have the dropout figures for those admitted under the 10% plan? I would hazard a guess that they are similar to those under racial preferences.
12.16.2006 11:56am
Harry Eagar (mail):
The jocks game the system, so I suppose the college preps are smart enough to, also.

It was not something we cared about, although perhaps we should have, but when my older daughter graduated from high school, she was the first kid from the county to be a National Merit Scholar in five or six years. She also had the highest grade-point average among the AP students. She barely graduated in the top 5% -- she was something like 17th in a class of 400 -- because of a slew of home ec girls with grade-points around 4.8 on a scale of 4.

This may have hurt her when she was turned down by her first choices -- Chicago and Northwestern. I don't know; Northwestern had 9K applicants for 1,800 spots that year. Maybe it is impossible for big schools to process applicants as individuals.

I talked her into applying to Grinnell, and they were thrilled and offered her a full ride by return of post.
12.16.2006 11:58am
Vovan:

The last argument against the 10% policy is the most interesting, because of all the biases built into it. The primary objection seems to be that poor Mr Price is somehow disadvantaged if he is forced to study finance at University of Houston instead of UT-Austin. Is there any rational basis to make such an objection? Is the education at one state school quantifiably better than at another? Can we say that geologists who graduate from UT-Permian Basin are 8% less likely than those from UT-Austin to detect oil in a particular area? Do lawyers who graduate from George Mason write briefs that are 14% less compelling than those from UCLA? No, of course not. This argument is all about perception of the relative worth of the school, a perception that is completely divorced from any objective criteria. To argue that one school is “better” than another without telling us the criteria upon which this argument is based, is just not compelling.


Quoted for truth
12.16.2006 12:18pm
Chad:
hmm. Seems like most of the complaints about the Texas system in this thread are geared towards being able to game the system to get into the best school (UT in this case), not necessarily to get into a school period. In Florida, I never hear stories like this because our best school (University of Florida) has carte blanch to pick their admissions; top 10% guarantee's that some Florida public school will accept you, not necessarily that the best ones will. If you want your kid to go to UF here, sending them to a failing school will do absolutely nothing to help their chances.
12.16.2006 12:21pm
RobD (mail) (www):
I agree w/ Houston Dude (I also live in Houston). But we are all missing the vital stat. What is the freshman dropout rate now in UT, is it better or worse than before the top 10% rule went into effect. To me, this (10% rule) could be a good thing by expanding the pool of available freshman. If UT wanted to also expand the # of freshman classes, that would also be good (realizing that more freshman will drop out). But if a top 10% person is getting in whereas a person who is more likely to succeed in college is not getting in, that would be a problem. I don't think race should be a barrier to getting into college, but i'm against AA in principle (since race shouldn't be a factor in deciding who gets in).

I'll be honest, I wasn't a great student. I think i was top 20% in my high school, and only B averages in college and grad school. But now I have a PhD from a prestigious university, and good scientific credentials besides. I'm probably the only one in my high school class who has a PhD. I'm probably one of the very few in my college major who went on to get a PhD. I was not supported by any professors or teachers (due to the grades and apathy), but here I am. My point is that there are hidden gems, and scholastics is only one part of the equation of how successful you'll be in life (real life, not academia).

So, yeah, maybe the top 10% thing isn't such a good idea, maybe a real test that would actually measure probability of success in college would be helpful (I think SATs, TAKS, is worthless). But that's the job of the dept. of education (which has failed miserably, take HISD for example)
12.16.2006 12:23pm
K:
Lots of talk about fairness and bad outcomes from the ten percent solution, etc.

But the stated goal of is not fairness. It is diversity. Both words leave a lot of room to do as one wishes.

The complaint about the UT 10% is that it limits what the admissions officers can do. And universities don't like limits. They dislike the courts tossing out the plans they devise. And they don't like the legislature making rules they can't ignore.

What you see here is just an attempt by the university to regain authority.
12.16.2006 1:32pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
ed in Texas, Quincy,

I agree there is much we could do to equalize the resources available to various schools. Unfortunately even if all schools had equal resources we would still be a long way from equal schools.

It is often overlooked but one of the primary factors determining school quality is the quality of the students. The level of the other students sets a bar which students compare themselves against and most students ask more questions and receive more help from their peers than they do from their teachers. Sure the teacher might spend more time talking at them about the material but what matters more is what they hear at 10pm when they need to use the information.

I'm not saying teacher quality doesn't matter, it surely does. An exceptional teacher can motivate students to more than their peers and parents expect of them. Unfortunately we can't have only exceptional teachers and the way classes react to mediocre teachers differs wildly. Put a mediocre teacher in an upper class high school and have her teach a bunch of AP students and they will learn despite the teacher, the smarter/better students pulling up their confused peers. On the other hand stick a mediocre teacher in a ghetto school where the students don't benefit from cultural expectations of good education and the students won't bother to learn around the mediocre teaching style, and any student who is initially so motivated will be dragged down by the lower expectations of their peers.

By the way this is even more true in college than in high school. When I went to caltech I pretty much never went to classes (went whole semesters without ever attending class) and I was far from the only one who did this. Yet despite this the students I know from tech end up learning far more than similarly smart students who went to other schools (at least in math/sci areas). Why? Because your fellow students set the standard you strive for and the quality of your 3am homework help.

--

Also I would dispute the idea that a good measure of the harm of this sort of plan is the number of freshmen dropouts. Regardless of the official policy all colleges and courses adopt a de facto curve. They are never going to fail half their class. Sure, with small programs like affirmative action which don't substantially impact overall student body makeup this might be a reasonable measure but if we are talking about an admissions rule that determines 70% of your incoming class then a lower quality of student would just result in lower expectations for the students not a greater dropout rate.
12.16.2006 1:33pm
Adrianne Truett (www):
Come on — sending the students to a school where they'll be in top 10% doesn't mean sending them to Westbury where they'll be knifed. It means transferring them from academically rigorous St. John's to the non-IB program at Lamar, the public high school across the street. There's about 5 St. John's students a year that do that. What with students (one in my kid sister's class who made the news) who get high-1500s (back under the 1600 scale) SATs and get into a few Ivies but not into UT because their high school doesn't rank its students (or small HSs, like St. Thomas Episcopal, where the top 10% would be one student), there's a fair bit of that going on.

I can speak to the 10% kids' failure rates. I don't have the stats, although I used to (a now-defunct Daily Texan competitor put them out), but failure rates and the need for remedial classes have definitely gone up.

It's like the law school affirmative action articles posted here a year or two ago — it ends up hurting everyone, even many of those it is designed to help. Person A, who for whatever reason is unwilling or unable to go out of state/out of town for college, but was academically excellent yet not ranked highly enough for the local branch of the UT system, ends up at the local alternative, not living up to his full potential, and not given as many opportunities when looking for jobs (BA @ Concordia doesn't get the same immediate reaction at the top of a resume as BA @ UT - Austin would). Person B, top 10 percent at Carmine-Round Top High School (rural, small population, some students get to A&M on their own merit but many others don't aim for jobs that would require college), low academic training, ends up at UT-Austin, is totally over his head because it's not what he's been trained for, ends up having to repeat a year (strain on state funds) or drops out entirely. Without the preferences, person B might have ended up at Austin Community College, found a level with which he was comfortable, and gone on to do well for himself.

Then again, as in the UC-system reports from a while back on the number of students having to take remedial English classes because they were functionally illiterate (their definition, not my sneer), perhaps the goal of universities isn't to educate or train; perhaps it's something else entirely.
12.16.2006 1:46pm
Adrianne Truett (www):
logicnazi: I didn't mean failure rates -- you're right about curves -- I meant dropout rates and remedial classes.
12.16.2006 1:48pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
PQuincy,

I think you are confusing CA Props. 187 and 209. 209 was the anti-preferences one; 187 had to do with state services for undocumented immigrants.

This "perverse incentives" thing is interesting, isn't it? To the extent that "top x%" programs encourage disciplined and academically ambitious students to transfer to weaker schools, aren't they doing pretty much what Seattle, say, is trying to do with its "racial balancing" business? Is an influx of strong students into a weaker school a good thing only when a school board does it deliberately? If Seattle &co. have any sort of case, it must be because the presence of strong students is a plus for the weaker students being educated alongside them. If so, this effect is a feature, not a bug.

Because logicnazi is right: a hell of a lot of the quality of education has to do with the students, not the teaching. If you were to swap the student bodies of, say, UC/Berkeley and UC/Riverside, sending the Berkeley kids to Riverside and the Riverside kids to Berkeley for four years, I guarantee you that the former will have learned more over the time, just because they will have kept each other on their toes. The actual undergrad teaching at Berkeley is probably better, but not by all that much.
12.16.2006 2:13pm
texasgrad:
I graduated from Dallas-ish high school in the second or third year the 10% rule was in effect. I went to a private school, but plenty of my friends went to UT, UNT, UTD, TWU, etc.

Friends of mine had a fundamentally different experiences than mine. At my private school, we had tutoring, help sessions, TAs who cared. At UT, the impression I got was that it was sink or swim. If they had trouble in, say, freshman physics, they had better go to library and figure it out, because there were too many unqualified students to help.

So, I would say the 10% rule helped UT in that it created a self-sufficient, determined student body. My understanding (though it may be incorrect) is that UT's drop-out rate skyrocketed in those first years because of lack of housing, resources, and general ability to deal with so many unqualified students. The benefit is that the "unqualfied" steudents with the drive to learn it anyway made it--those with the best work ethic. I suppose Texas has decided that benefit is worth the cost.
12.16.2006 2:14pm
DRJ (mail):
There are many interesting comments and perspectives here. Even though I live in Texas and have a son at UT-Austin now, he was not admitted under the top-10% rule so I don't have a strong opinion on that program, except ... I don't understand why some are willing to trust admissions committees - at any college, not just Texas colleges - to select their student body using any guidelines they choose. At least the top-10% rule is transparent and we know where applicants stand.

I hope that whatever future process or formula Texas adopts, it will be at least as transparent as the current admissions rules. The last thing college applicants need is to take a step backward and embrace "... the supersecret world of university admissions [that] often operates in such a capricious or unpredictable way that 'people are justified in questioning the fairness of the process.'" John Fund On the Trail, WSJ Opinion Journal 3/30/06, quoting Yale history professor and former Dean Donald Kagan.
12.16.2006 2:16pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also I think most of the discussion so far has missed the real harm from this program, namely that it undermines proper tracking of students into appropriate colleges.

The skeptics in the comments who point out that anyone in the top 10% could (probably) go to college somewhere do have a point. Also the perverse incentive issue, while quite visible, is probably less problematic than one might expect since gaming the texas system trades off with admission to private colleges. I mean if the texas system merely guaranteed admission to some state college for the top 10% that wouldn't really be that bad. In fact telling students that anyone who manages to finish in the top 10% of HS is guaranteed admission at some state college (and perhaps financial aid) seems like a powerful incentive that could lift poor communities up.

The problem with this program is the tension between UT Austin's flagship status and the rule guaranteeing the top 10% admission to their choice of school. Now you can question whether it makes sense for states to try to create top tier universities but as my earlier post outlines a top tier student body is a necessary component to being a top tier school. If you admit a large contingent of less qualified students to UT Austin the professors won't just fail them all but (consciously or not) will lower standards to let them pass.

Ultimately it's very important that we track students appropriately when they go to college. Our best and brightest students need to be sent to the most rigorous and demanding schools which will stretch their abilities. Thus the real problem with the 10% plan is that it prevents Texas from maintaining a high end selective school for the most talented students. Since many students don't have real options of attending out of state schools you are going to end up wasting a lot of talent because not enough is expected of them by their student peers or school. Though this may be a small fraction of students they are the ones who matter to our leadership in science and engineering.

Of you can always offer advanced courses even at a school whose average level of student talent isn't that great. However, there is every difference in the world between giving up hanging out with your friends or that cool party for a class your peers expect you to take and doing so for a crazy advanced course no one else you know is taking while your aching all the courses your friends are in. If we want to make the best use of our talented youth we need to put them in environments with high expectations and peers of similarly high ability. Besides, if you are going to track people inside the college why not just do so with colleges themselves where it would be more effective?

--

Also I worry once we move too far away from the idea that it is ability that determines who should get into our prestigious state universities I fear that we will start seeing all sorts of fights about what groups deserve this benefit.

Interestingly this article seems to claim that they weren't getting the same percents of minorities as with affirmative action back in 2003.
12.16.2006 2:40pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
One last remark:

While I think there are serious harms to letting admission to your flagship university be substantially determined by something other than ability I think there is one significant benefit of this sort of program over affirmitive action programs.

One of the big reasons I am skeptical of affirmitive action is that it seems unclear if affirmitive action does more to alleviate racial tensions/stereotypes than to create them. Balanced against any benefits from affirmitive action in terms of minority role models and greater personal familiarity with minorities is the race linked expectation that affirmitive action likely encourages.

As this study points out people have an amazing ability to make statistical generalizations and even act on these generalizations without conscious knowledge of them. Thus it has always seemed very very dangerous to school people in environments with a significant negative correlation between ability and minority status. In fact affirmitive action programs seem to create an environment designed to encourage the sort of subtle unconscious stereotyping and discrimination their promoters hope to remedy.

This program has the strong advantage of not creating a strong correlation at the school between minority status and lowered ability. Unlike other places people are unlikely to say, "Ooh he's probably just here on affirmitive action." Perhaps even more importantly the minorities themselves won't think "I don't really belong here I just got here because of my skin color." (the sorts of belief that seems to cause great problems in women and math/science).

So while I don't support this sort of program for UT Austin and other supposedly top tier universities whose very purpose is undermined by admitting too many average applicants I think there is a pretty good argument for it applied to a second tier of colleges similar to the cal state system.
12.16.2006 2:58pm
John Rosenberg (mail) (www):
I’ve just posted a critique of Ilya Somin’s provocative post on my blog, here. For those who don’t want to travel over there for the longer version, I’ll make two of its points in short form here.

1. Somin writes that “the ten percent plan has negative side-effects and perverse incentives that are considerably worse than those of traditional affirmative action, including racial quotas.” The problem with racial quotas, however, is not their “side effects” but their very essence. To worry about the “side effects” of racial quotas is like worrying about the “side effects” of segregation or slavery.

2. Somin asks: “if it is morally wrong to aim for a given racial balance in a state university student body by using explicit racial preferences, why is it not equally wrong to intentionally try to achieve the same effect through indirect, facially “neutral” means?” But this question is based on a false assumption. It is not “morally wrong to aim for a given racial balance.” What is wrong is the use of “explicit racial preferences,” i.e., of discriminating on the basis of race. There is nothing whatsoever objectionable about “racial balance”; what is objectionable is using racial discrimination to achieve it.

The analogy to literacy tests and poll taxes fails for the same reason. Those measures were indeed racially neutral on their fact (no need for the quotes around neutral), but they were all clearly intended to discriminate against blacks, which they did. By contrast, neither the purpose nor the effect of the Top 10% plan is to discriminate against whites. It discriminates, if that is the right word, against bright students who are in such good schools that they do not make the top 10% of their class, but, as Somin himself points out, that group includes minorities as well as whites.

Actually, this is enough of my critique that no one need feel any obligation (not that any of you did) to go look at the longer version.
12.16.2006 2:59pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):

Do Texas Schools add quality points to AP course grades? Does UT recognize them? Most that I am aware of add .5 or 1.0 points to the grade for an AP class (leading to those 4.5-on-a-4.0-scale GPA's).


Yes, they do now.

BTW, UT Dallas is a more exclusive school than UT Austin.


I don't understand why some are willing to trust admissions committees - at any college, not just Texas colleges - to select their student body using any guidelines they choose. At least the top-10% rule is transparent and we know where applicants stand.


Well said.
12.16.2006 3:16pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Ok, sorry I'll stop posting now.

DRJ,

I think a big reason we don't demand more transparency for admissions requirements is that their very utility would probably be undermined by public knowledge.

For instance if we want students who will do good works with their education we might give a boost to students who have donated their time to charitable organizations but once these sort of bonuses become public people go join charitable organizations just to get into college undermining their use as a predictor of generosity. I don't think this is a reasonable criteria to use but it illustrates the need for secrecy.

In short the more people know about the admissions process the more effort goes into gaming the system rather than learning.

Secondly, speaking from experience grading exams the second you start telling people the grading procedure and it involves any use of judgement you get all sorts of people objecting to your judgement. Keeping it secret reduces the number of angry parents harassing them about why their daughter/son didn't get in.

--

Also I want to object to the notion floating around here that people should get into college because 'they deserve it' or something like this. Ultimately we deny many people from college because they are dumb even if they have made the absolute best use of their intelligence.

Deciding who gets into college is a matter of resource allocation. Just like tracking people into honors/non-honors classes in HS it is a matter of putting people in the best place for them modulo available resources. We let the smarter person into places like MIT because the whole society benefits from giving the smarter person the hardcore education MIT offers.

This does allow that sometimes we should make offers based on things other than ability if it has serious social benefits, e.g., if affirmative action really is helpful in eliminating racial tensions. However, the burden should be on anyone who wants to use another criteria to show that the benefits will offset the inefficiencies in improper tracking.
12.16.2006 3:16pm
DRJ (mail):
Logicnazi,

Your argument doesn't work that well with public Texas colleges or UT-Austin because Texas law requires that specific percentages of students (approximately 70%) must be Texas residents. Thus, the pool of successful applicants is already limited. Your argument suggests that there is significantly better and more qualified group of Texas applicants who might be admitted to UT-Austin but who aren't in the top 10% of their Texas high school class. That might be true in limited numbers or anecdotally, but I find that generally hard to believe. Not all smart kids come from urban areas and top feeder high schools. There are also smart kids from rural Texas and Valley schools. In a state like Texas, diversity is more than skin color.

Anyway, I'm not sure UT-Austin is that bad off. Even with limited merit aid, it routinely attracts 230-265 National Merit Finalists annually. Texas A&M and Rice also attract significant NMFs, and other public and private universities have been successful in recruiting NMFs with generous financial aid. Desirable applicants are voting with their feet and, as a result, college markets are a-changing.

The better argument would be that Texas should dispense with the residency requirement so it could select superior students from across the nation. I don't think there can be any doubt that SAT averages would increase if that were to happen, but it won't because the Texas Legislature and citizens want their public colleges to primarily serve Texas residents.
12.16.2006 3:25pm
DRJ (mail):
Logicnazi,

We cross-posted so, as is apparent, my last comment isn't a response to your post.

I understand that there is no entitlement to admission at a particular college but I don't understand why anyone would be against transparency in admissions. If you are worried about gaming the system, then I would think you would agree that college admissions should be open and obvious to all applicants. As it is, admissions are sometimes gamed now - by the rich who have access to paid advisors, by legacies, by sought-after athletes, and others depending on the particular college.

To forestall a claim that I have an axe to grind, I am not the disgruntled parent of a rejected applicant. Our son was admitted to a selective Ivy League college but chose not to attend. What I am is an advocate for transparency in admissions that I think will ultimately benefit all applicants, the colleges themselves, and society.
12.16.2006 3:37pm
Ragerz (mail):
A few comments.

Is Mr. Somin for affirmative action? If he is not, then presumably, he thinks that BOTH affirmative action and the 10-percent plan should be nixed. In other words, he apparently advocates doing nothing to correct for the disparities in opportunity that have everything to do with what highschool one happens to be assigned.

Overall, ANY system is susceptible to some sort of gaming. Before SATs, you gamed the system by getting to know the right people, going to the right prep schools, and being in the right social class. After SATs, you game the system by getting massive amounts of tutoring focused on the relatively narrow subject matter of the SATs. You also game the system by living in a wealthier school district that has higher quality public schools. This system is not exactly just. No one chooses who their parents are; many students have no ability to affect the quality of their highschool (or the schools before that).

So, now there is going to be a relatively small amount of gaming going on, where people transfer to lower performing schools. Good! Because as logicnazi noted above, to some extent, an individual's performance is influence by their peers. To the extent that people transfer to other schools, they mix up the student body and can be a valuable resource to that school. I don't see this tranferring as a total loss.

Logicnazi brings up another point. That UT Austin won't be as elite.

I think that what he fails to realize is that you can have elite programs within a non-elite school. It is called an honors program. You don't need the entire student body to get many of these benefits. As someone who graduated from computer science from a non-elite University of California school, but was in an elite honors program and took honors courses, I can testify that you can have all the access to extremely intelligent peers, even if not all your peers are at the same level. The students in the honors program were at Caltech levels, at least if you judge them by their success in getting into Ivy League grad programs.

So, we don't really need to worry about the 10-percent plan destroying the chances for elite academics at UT Austin.

Overall, the only legitimate complaint here is that students are encouraged to game the system by taking easier classes. That problem can be solved by giving more weight to harder classes. You don't have to discard the 10-percent plan to fix that problem.

This is not a claim that the 10-percent plan is perfect. There are inevitable tradeoffs to any approach to admissions. So, we should give little weight to Mr. Somin's concerns until he proposes an alternative, so we can evaluate the tradeoffs of that alternative to see if it is any better.

Otherwise, your analysis is no better than political art. All you have here is an argument to give more weight to the costs of the 10-percent plan. There is no real analysis of the benefits (or acknowledgment that there are any benefits), nor is there an examination of alternatives, including the costs and benefits of those alternatives. If the 10-percent plan is imperfect, but then all alternatives are similarly imperfect, how do we know that the 10-percent plan is not the lesser evil?

Of course, you have argued that one lesser evil is affirmative action. But, this is not true from the perspective of disadvantaged non-minorities who go to poorly performing highschools. Is it okay to disregard the interests of disadvantaged non-minorities from the calculus? Why? Finally, do you think affirmative action is acceptable? If not, what alternatives do you propose? Or is it better to reserve most academic opportunities to "superior" student who come from predominately wealthy school districts and who receive superior educational opportunities in highschool?
12.16.2006 3:43pm
Jim Hu:
If we want to ensure that some set percentage of university admissions slots go to particular minority groups, far better to do so through traditional affirmative action, than by means of the Texas ten percent plan.
Perhaps. But that's not the goal. One goal is an admissions policy that is as fair as possible. Unfortunately, there is no single accepted definition of fairness.

Disclaimer: I'm on the faculty at Texas A&M, and I support the 10% rule over the alternative of Michigan-style race-based extra points.

More here: http://dimer.tamu.edu/simplog/archive.php?blogid=3&pid=4500
12.16.2006 3:47pm
RJC (mail):
I can't speak from direct statistics about any increased college dropout rate from the 10% admissions policy. But my kids are both at public Bellaire HS in Houston (very highly rated in Texas &even nationally) and much of the "discussion" from parents at school sponsored college placement meetings centers on the unfairness to non-10%ers graduating from very rigorous programs and with high test scores who cannot get into UT-Austin. The college admissions representatives candidly recommend that non-10%ers from competetive schools simply transfer in as sophomores to replace the significant number of 10%ers who got in as freshman from from inferior schools as freshmen but could not handle the college program. Perhaps they are only saying this to placate irate parents, or perhaps the 10% program is only useful to provide a bare toehold for rural / inner city / otherwise disadvantaged high schoolers who must then make it through the system on their own or go on to less competetive schools.
12.16.2006 3:48pm
Avatar (mail):
DRJ, isn't that the point of having a public university system? If we're only worried about having excellent universities, well, there are several dozen prestigious universities from which a bright and motivated student may choose; there's no reason that Texas necessarily has to run one.

Fact is, even the local universities in Texas are pretty good. (At UH here, so possibly biased. But even out in Corpus Christi, you can get a damned good education!) As a matter of policy, it's probably better to expand access by opening up additional campuses around the state, rather than arguing about a few hundred borderline admissions at UT.

Personally, I was in the IB program at Lamar (goodness, high Houstonian component to this thread!) and transferred out to Humble halfway through when the family moved; traded a 3-hours-a-day-by-bus commute for a couple dozen IB courses not considered "honors" by Humble. Total cost to me was about half a grade point, which kicked me outside the top 10% of the grade. So I suppose I fall in the crack there, but what the heck, I'm confident that I would have been admitted anyway, and I've certainly had as good an education at UH as my younger brother did at UT, and being in town gave me a few opportunities I would have hated to turn down (especially working at an anime company for a few years, heh.)

So honestly, if UT-Austin complains about their admissions policy, cry the rest of us a river. They're welcome to turn loose their funding and go to the private sector any time they want to...
12.16.2006 3:52pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
The whole concept of "elite" public colleges is wrong. All state schools should have exactly the same funding, charge the same low tuiton and admit everyone who wants to go there. If physical facilities are limited, it should be first come, first served.

State colleges should serve everyone, just not an "elite", anyway you pick that "elite".
12.16.2006 4:13pm
DRJ (mail):
Avatar,

I agree with you and Ragerz. If it chooses, UT-Austin and other Texas public colleges can achieve excellence through quality honors programs and by enforcing admissions and grading standards. (Some colleges put too much emphasis on admissions and not enough on rigorous education and consistent grading once the students are there.)

The first goal of a public university like UT-Austin should be educating Texans. To the extent I said something that suggested otherwise - questioning residency requirements, perhaps? - I was responding to Logicnazi's point. I do not think the Texas residency requirements should be modified.
12.16.2006 4:17pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
logic, it may be so at 'elite' schools that they wouldn't fail 50%. I went to Cow College, with very low admission standards, and it flunked out well over 50% of each freshman class.

I don't believe there can be 'elites' once the population exceeds about 50. At least, every group I have ever encountered that had more than about 50 members displayed pretty much the full range of goodness/badness you would find in an organization of 500K. Take Congress, fairly exclusive in that it does select one in about 500K.

I also agree with JoeD: SATs are worthless.
12.16.2006 4:21pm
DRJ (mail):
It's tangential to the main point, but UT-Austin is implementing a basic core curriculum approach to education. Educationally speaking, it's a back-to-basics approach but I think it's a brave experiment that may pay off in better-educated graduates:
"Today, I am dean over an idea. By next year, I will be dean over a functioning program. By 2010, I firmly believe the university will be a model for other great universities to emulate. We will prove that a top research-oriented university can bring as much passion and coherence to undergraduate teaching as a small, elite college.”
12.16.2006 4:29pm
DRJ (mail):
Harry Eagar,

UT-Austin found that there is a moderate to strong correlation between SAT scores and college GPAS. (Link pp. 10-end.)
12.16.2006 4:36pm
Jim Hu:
DRJ,

Thanks for the link. I found this interesting from the Exec Summary:
The difference in mean scores between Top 10% and Non-Top 10% has narrowed to only 4 points on the SAT score scale (Top 10% = 1226; Non-Top 10% = 1222), but the Top 10% students still outperform their Non-Top 10% classmates.
I don't think this supports the notion that the top 10% policy lowers quality. However, there is a major caveat in that the top 10% undoubtedly includes students from both the stronger and weaker schools. Disaggregating the numbers may be hard to do in a reasonable way. I'm guessing that the performance distributions are different in some statistically significant way, but largely overlapping.

Haven't read the whole thing yet, though.
12.16.2006 4:48pm
The Real Bill (mail):
The best solution of all is to eliminate publicly funded institutions of higher learning. My guess is that affordable privite institutions would rise up in the place of public ones and that credentialism would decrease.
12.16.2006 5:00pm
DRJ (mail):
Jim Hu,

It would be interesting to see the disaggregated numbers. Texas colleges are pretty good at releasing statistics - probably they've been pressured to do so by Charles Miller, but it's still good - and the disaggregated numbers might be there somewhere but I can't find them.

Overall, you might find more extremes in qualifications among the non-top-10% applicants than the top-10% applicants. Why? Because the non-top-10% includes admissions from out-of-state and non-ranking schools, both of which typically have high SATs and GPAs, and preferential admissions including admissions based on race, ethnicity, and other special factors. Some people aren't aware that UT-Austin re-added race and ethnicity to its admissions criteria for the 2005-2006 academic year.
12.16.2006 5:12pm
Perseus (mail):
Jim Hu (on his blog) makes the best argument I've seen so far for the 10% plan (even if I see little merit in these sorts of admissions policies):

From a fairness perspective, there are two arguments in favor of the 10% rule. The first argument, of course, is that race-based criteria are just wrong.

The second argument is related to the nature of schools like Texas. Texas and Texas A&M are the two flagship public universities in our state. As public universities, our diversity mission is not just to compose crowd shots with minority faces. It's to serve the citizens of the State of Texas, who are distributed over school districts all over the state. Diversity includes admitting students from rural and urban Texas as much, if not more, as it means getting a mix of suburban premeds from different ethnic groups. The families who live in the best and worst school districts, and every district in between, all pay taxes that contribute to the Texas and Texas A&M budgets. The 10% rule is a fairer way to represent the people who pay (part of) the bills.

12.16.2006 5:17pm
sbron:
Many of the advocates of race-based admissions,
whether the 10% plan, Michigan-style points systems,
or "holistic" admissions are motivated more by
anti-white and increasing anti-asian animus, than
by a desire to truly improve academic performance
of unrepresented groups.

We have tried affirmative action, bilingual instruction and multiculturalism in education for over 30 years and
the situation for Black and Latino students has only
become worse. What we are afraid to state is that
part of the solution must come from within
underrepresented groups. Part of the solution also
requires a wholesale revision of teacher's education
and certification programs to eliminate the focus
on multiculturalism and white privilege, and instead
emphasize academic achievement.


Check out Richard Lamm's "Two Wands" essay for
an alternative point of view.
12.16.2006 5:18pm
DRJ (mail):
Jim Hu,

I really enjoyed your blog article. I especially agree with your preference for Robert Gates-style leadership over Bill Powers. Wanna trade?
12.16.2006 5:32pm
DRJ (mail):
Prof. Somkin,

I'm not sure where you got the idea (other than perhaps from Bill Powers, who does not speak for the Texas Legislature) that the point of the top-10% law is to achieve racial diversity. I'm not a top-10% expert but I believe the point was to achieve socioeconomic and geographic diversity within the Texas population. If so, would that affect your analysis?
12.16.2006 6:14pm
DRJ (mail):
I'm sorry for mistyping your name, Prof. Somin. Unfortunately, I have a sticky keyboard from too much simultaneous eating and typing.
12.16.2006 6:16pm
Loren Svor (mail):
I have some experience in the Texas system on a personal level. I applied to UT Law with a 3.2 GPA with an MA from UND Grand Forks, but a good LSAT. In 1991, I was wait-listed, but didn't get in. In 1992, I was again wait-listed, but did get in, under circumstances I never understood. I was an honors graduate (top 30%) in 1995. My son graduated from one of the better high schools in Texas at about the 20% level. He was provisionally accepted at UT, but had to attend a summer semester and prove his worth before he could officially enroll. He graduated from UT with a GPA of 3.2, and is a second year St. Mary's law school student. What about those affirmative action students that got into UT Law the year I didn't, or those that didn't have to take the summer semester my son took? Well, we don't hear anything about them. Because the answer would not be pretty. John Rosenberg (above) Says "By contrast, neither the purpose nor the effect of the Top 10% plan is to discriminate against whites." This is simply false. That is the only purpose (oh yeah, and Asians). Most of the comments on this thread dwell on the supposed affects of the schools on the inability of student of "rural" of "inner city" schools to compete on a truly level basis. My high school graduating class had 54 students. Shouldn't I have gotten a break? Oh right, they were all white. Now I understand. I'm sure these commenters are aware that standardized test attained prominence as a means of defeating blatant discrimination against Jews. Jews did rather well when on level playing field, but not with biased admittance personnel. Now the tests are derogated because their clients do not do so well on the tests. And why must they be ignored? Because "diversity" is valuable. But we never are told what that value is. O'Connor thought she new, I guess, but never enlightened us. As in so many other areas, she didn't know, and I have not found enlightenment in this area on this thread either. Short conclusion: "Poor" schools are so because they have poor (meaning less capable) students. These student are disproportionately minority. The 10% rule results in more "poor" (meaning less capable) students being admitted to elite schools. They perform relatively poorly (I admit I don't have statistics to support this, but if it were not true, do you doubt that the schools would not be trumpeting it?). The 10% policy is racially discriminatory and never pretended to be otherwise. Whether it is preferable to conventional affirmative action (racial discrimination) is irrelevant. Both should be abandoned.
12.16.2006 9:59pm
DRJ (mail):
Following up on my earlier comment regarding the purpose of the top-10% legislation, here is a link to the Texas Legislature's Higher Education Committee report for that law. The law requires that colleges report "race, ethnicity, and economic status" of admitted students, so those factors are clearly within the intent of the legislation. However, the criteria for special admissions are set forth in Section 51.805 of the law and those criteria do not focus on race or ethnicity.

I understand why "experts" would be concerned if the top-10% law adversely affects minority admissions. However, I'm not sure I understand why the law isn't also evaluated for its ability to promote other types of diversity, e.g., socioeconomic or geographic (rural/urban/statewide) diversity.
12.16.2006 10:28pm
Mike Keenan:
The number of people who move to attend a weaker school is absolutely dwarfed by people who move to get into a good school district. This part of your analyis is laughable. And, with school choice, students would flood out of these poorer schools even more.
12.16.2006 11:46pm
Lev:
Excuse me if this has already been addressed, but I thought the Texas 10% plan only guaranteed a place in the Texas state system, which includes way more than Texas University in Austin and Texas A&M.

And if so, what does the California experience post Prop 209 say about this - fewer blacks at Berkeley, but more at other state campuses and with higher graduation rates?
12.17.2006 12:26am
DeezRightWingNutz:
Is there any place you can find out how many National Merit Scholars UT turns away each year, or find out what the 25th and 75th percentile scores were for students admitted outside of the top-10% system? I attended (arguably) the best public high school in Michigan, was a National Merit Scholar, was well outside of the top 10%, was "well-rounded" but didn't have an exceptional skills or accomplishments outside of school. I didn't think for a second that I wouldn't get into U of M, and I was right. If a system were implemented that resulted in students like me being marginal candidates or even being rejected, I would be a drastic change. Is UT turning away people who scored 1500 on their SAT, took a bunch of AP classes, and have good but not exceptional grades?

Also, I was surpised by the assertion that a lot of suburban parents are sending their kids to a bad schools just to game the system. By "bad school," I mean a gang-infested, Stand-and-Deliver-style high school. I can see parents of students at the best schools dropping a rung, but due to a safety/perceived safety issue, I'd be surprised to see kids transfer from a safe but average suburban school to a stereo-typical inner-city school. Granted, UT is a very good school, but don't these kids have alternatives? We're talking about kids that could probably get into Rice.
12.17.2006 10:22am
CJColucci:
Whether all of this is good or bad is a subject I have no interest in addressing. But good or bad, what part of it wasn't absolutely predictable at the time?
12.17.2006 11:18am
UT Grad:
I think the top 10% rule is a joke and fails to acheive the goals set out for it.

As a graduate of one of the toughest public high schools in the state of Texas, I was concerned about my prospects for admission to UT because of the rule. My graduating class had 667 students, from a class that started out over 900. There were 45 people tied for #1 in the class. The #1 took a full ride to Harvard. I was not in the top 10% of the class, but I got in.

People will say that this is a victory for the system, but they are wrong. I came from a upper-middle class suburb of Houston. While private schools like Kincaid, and Strake were nice in theory the 25mi drive on a daily basis was right out. There were three HSs in the district I was in, and they were all amazing. What I am saying is my town was whitebread, the school over 70% white. I am white. I went to UT and statistics aside my classes there were the same as my HS majority white if not all white.

If the 10% is going to inspire diversity, where is it? At A&M? You may not know this, but the University has special programs for 10% students, they have special classes and tutoring not available to other students, to prop them up.

So recap, the 10% rule has installed a large number of white underacheivers, unable to meet the "difficulty" of freshmen level classes. This sounds like a failure to me.
12.17.2006 1:14pm
Jon Kay (mail):
> First, it often leads universities to admit students that are
> probably inferior to those they would have chosen otherwise:

That's unclear. Top 10% remains an elite group, which takes some talent and energy to reach. Admission is probably harder to game (Gov. Perry's grumbles about how hard it is would seem to backstop that suspicion). University officials have repeatedly said they're satisfied with the talent levels seen under the top 10%. It's possible they might get a better student body, overall, with the plan. The sole source of UT unhappiness has been capacity issues.

> Finally, the ten percent plan also has the effect of disadvantaging
> high-achieving minority students who go to strong schools and - in
> part for that reason - fall short of the top ten percent in their
> class.

You know, as unfairnesses go in life, this one is pretty far down. First, the top 10% at that school do get in, and the rest do have Rice and out of state (and let's face it - you get a better education by going farther).
12.17.2006 8:38pm
DRJ (mail):
Prof. Somin,

Before this thread ends, I want to suggest that one of the main goals of the top-10% law was to increase the opportunity for Texas high school students to attend the flagship colleges, Texas A&M and UT-Austin, even though they lived in areas or had socioeconomic levels that had been underrepresented at those colleges. Once again, I'm not sure the Legislature's concern was to enhance minority attendance as much as it was to increase geographic (rural) and socioeconomic (Valley/poor urban) diversity.

Historically, the top Texas high schools in East, Central and North Texas (especially Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and their surrounding communities) were overrepresented at UT-Austin in particular. Northeast Texas, West Texas, the Panhandle, and the Valley were underrepresented. I don't know how conclusively the top-10% law changed this representation - after all, it's only been 6 years since it went into effect - but there is evidence of an increase in socioeconomic and geographic diversity at UT-Austin as reflected in an increase in new feeder schools:
Summary

In short, after three years the top ten percent admissions policy appears to have slightly broadened representation in the entering class of UT-Austin. The “new sender” high schools come from across Texas. There are two principal clusters, comprised on the one hand of inner-city minority high schools in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston and San Antonio, and on the other of rural white high schools, located mainly in East and Northeast Texas. There is a third grouping consisting of minority and “mixed” rural schools in West Texas and South Texas. The change in high school sending patterns since 1996 is very modest, but it points in the direction of increased access to the University of Texas at Austin for all areas of the State.

The key to greater access lies in the fact that the “top ten percent” law assures the very best of each high school admission to the state university of their choice. Because high schools generally reflect local communities and environments, this is also the key to creating a diverse student body that roughly reflects the make up of the State. As should clear by now, this diversity is more than a matter of race: the new high school senders clearly point to a diversity of region, economic class and social background. In essence, HB 588 is helping the University of Texas at Austin achieve its motto, “We’re Texas.”

In addition, it seems to me that the top-10% law lets students choose what's best for them. If a minority student wants to go to A&M, s/he can be sure to get admitted by maintaining a top 10% GPA in a Texas high school - any Texas high school, not just in the historically strong feeder schools.

My guess - and I admit it is speculation - is that well-qualified minority students have many opportunities in elite universities where their applications and attendance are actively solicited. Accordingly, I suspect many top-10% minority applicants reject A&M or UT-Austin because they get better offers and more financial aid from elite private colleges. The remaining non-top-10% minority applicants may feel they are not qualified to attend or compete at the flagship colleges and self-select for other Texas colleges, where minority attendance has increased. My speculation could be wrong but I think it is plausible given the relatively small number of well-qualified minority applicants and the intense competition that elite colleges engage in to increase minority applications and attendance.

Finally, it seems ironic for law professors to join with university administrators in objecting to college admissions because they are based on one criteria - in this case, graduating in the top 10% from a Texas high school class. Historically, most law schools base their admissions on indexing the LSAT score and college GPA. I think it's fair to say that, especially in law schools, holistic admissions are the exception and not the rule.
12.17.2006 10:16pm
Jim Hu:
I've now had a chance to look at a newer version(pdf) of the admissions report for the Univ. of Texas linked by DRJ above. There is a significant increase in the numbers of students in the bottom tier of SAT scores (below 900), but these seem to be admitted at the expense of discretionary admission of students with SATs below 1100.

More detail on my blog
12.17.2006 11:41pm
Houston Lawyer:
As a UT grad, I hate this system. The primary beneficiaries appear to be LSU, OU and Oklahoma State.

There hasn't been much discussion here of the blatant lying going on in various high schools where a lot more than 10% of the class is suddenly in the top 10%.
12.18.2006 10:31am
A.C.:
As for gaming the system by changing schools, I certainly know how this was done back in the 80s when the issue was geographic diversity. My undergraduate school drew disproportionately from the wealthier suburbs of NYC, and the administration was always trying to break this up by admitting more students from elsewhere. Some families would game the system by sending their children to live with relatives upstate or in the midwest for a while. It wasn't a question of long commutes or dangerous schools... an upper middle high school in Ohio would do, and a superachiever from Scarsdale would probably find everything he or she needed in such a place.

Although I recognize the possibility of gaming the system, and although I think the 10% rule is too rigid, I do think that taking a person's school into account is a good idea. A person with a 1200 SAT (old system -- I think the scale has changed) from a good school is fairly common, but someone who gets that after being educated in a bad school is worth looking at. So what if he or she might take a little longer to learn difficult college material than someone with a 1500? A person who will perservere in a bad school will probably perservere with difficult homework and do just fine in the end.
12.18.2006 11:29am
Gary in Ohio:
Another unintended (or maybe not) effect of the 10% rule is that it has turned UT into a nearly Texan-only school. They are now admitting only 5% of their students from out-of-state. Simple math shows that, assuming that UT itself does not grow, the percentage of out-of-state students will decline because Texas' population will continue to increase. It appears likely that out-of-state undergrads will be almost non-existent at UT in a few more years. While the 10% rule may have increased racial diversity at UT, it has all but eliminated geographical diversity.

I wonder if UT values geographical diversity, or if they'd rather that everyone have "Texan" point of view.
12.18.2006 6:02pm
Gordo:
I find it highly ironic that someone who would make a constitutionbal argument against racial preferences would now resort to policy arguments against the only real alternative. The "ten percent solution" essentially gives poverty preference rather than racial preference.

It must be extremely teeth-gnashing for someone with apparently elitist policy prescriptions to see an anti-elitist program that only has to survive rational basis rather than strict scrutiny.

The fact is - it is an essential part of the American experience that we give opportunities to all of our citizens regardless of race OR income disparities. The "ten percent" solution does exactly that.
12.18.2006 6:55pm
Gordo:
And it does it by giving preference to "relative high achievers" at each high school. Soneome who is in the top ten percent of a weak high school has already tasted success in life. Are there yet any statistics to prove the alleged "pernicious" effects of the ten percent solution? And I don't count the U of T's average SAT scores going from 1400 to 1350 (or whatever the scale is now) to be a "pernicious effect."
12.18.2006 6:57pm
Twill00 (mail):
Of course, as the population increases, they can always change it to 8%, then 6% and so on. There are lots of other legal alternatives as well.

For instance, a lottery where the number of entries you get is a function of your GPA, SAT, position in class, and so on.
12.18.2006 8:25pm