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On "10 Percent" Plans

by Sanford Levinson

illuminating storyAustin American Statesman
... Senate Bill 101 would have allowed a school to limit top 10 percent students to 60 percent of its freshmen from Texas high schools. The Senate passed the measure 28-2 Sunday, but the House rejected it on a 75-64 vote.... [Students would still have had automatic admission to other Texas public universities, simply not UT once the 60% limit had been reached.]
The House vote was unexpected. The chamber voted 77-67 last week to approve an earlier version of the measure. And House members approved similar proposals during two previous legislative sessions.
"The difference between this session and last session may be that rural Republicans seem to have heard from their districts that the top 10 percent rule is helping them," said Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who voted for limiting the law.
UT has sought limits for the past few years, arguing that too large a portion of its undergraduate enrollment is being determined by a single factor, squeezing out students with leadership skills, musical talent and other qualities who don't happen to rank high.
The university's fall 2006 freshman class had a larger portion, 71 percent, of students from Texas high schools admitted under the law than any previous class. That worked out to 66 percent of all UT freshmen. The automatic-admission law does not apply to students from other states.
UT is the only school among 35 public colleges and universities that sought relief from the 1997 law. But any school whose capacity is strained in the future could opt to restrict admission of top 10 percent students under the measure.
House rejection of the bill is a major defeat for UT President William Powers Jr., who spent considerable time testifying at legislative hearings and meeting with lawmakers this year. He argued that giving the university more flexibility in deciding whom to admit would allow it to recruit more Hispanic and black students.
Minority enrollment at UT has not changed significantly since 1997. Blacks went from 3.7 percent of undergraduates that year to 4.2 percent in 2006, according to university records. Hispanics made up 14.2 percent of the student body in 1997 and 17.1 percent in 2006.
... Some lawmakers, especially members of minority groups to whom top 10 percent is a touchstone of merit-based equal opportunity, wanted no changes. Others, including some representing highly competitive suburban schools whose students increasingly felt shut out of UT, favored repeal. [All emphases are added.]