As I travel around Texas, I often encounter the
perception that the "Top 10 Percent Law" is causing a large
number of qualified applicants to be denied admission to The
University of Texas at Austin. That is not really the case. It
is true that admissions have become much tighter, and it is
true that many qualified students are not gaining admission.
But the increased competitiveness is the result of the growth
in the population of 18-year-olds and a very sharp rise in the
number of applications. In 1997, UT Austin received 14,982
applications compared to more than 21,000 this year, an
increase of 43 percent.
The Top 10 Percent Law (officially House Bill 588)
guarantees that Texas high school graduates who rank in the
top 10 percent of their senior class be admitted to any state
institution of higher learning. Two years ago, 42 percent of
UT Austin freshmen were top 10 percent graduates. This year,
the figure is 47 percent. So, more than half the spaces
in the freshman class remain available to non-top-10-percent
graduates. Furthermore, because the freshman class has
increased in size to more than 7,600, there are about as many
spaces for non-top 10 percent graduates as in past years.
Meanwhile, the Top 10 Percent Law has enabled us to
diversify enrollment at UT Austin with talented students who
succeed. Our 1999 enrollment levels for African American and
Hispanic freshmen have returned to those of 1996, the year
before the Hopwood decision prohibited the
consideration of race in admissions policies. And minority
students earned higher grade point averages last year than in
1996 and have higher retention rates. An impressive 94.9
percent of 1998 African American freshmen returned to enroll
for their sophomore year in 1999. For Hispanics, 85.8 percent
returned for their second year. So, the law is helping us to
create a more representative student body and enroll students
who perform well academically.
Critics contend the Top 10 Percent Law requires admission
of some students who have lower standardized test scores than
those who are rejected. This does occur. However, top 10
percent high school students make much higher grades in
college than non-top 10 percent students. In fact, top 10
percent students at every level of the SAT earn grade point
averages that exceed those of non-top 10 percent students
having SAT scores that are 200 to 300 points higher.
Strong academic performance in high school is an even better
predictor of success in college than standardized test
Because the pool of applicants is rising, admission to the
state's leading universities will continue to be more
selective. That is a result of a growing population, improved
schools and the hard work of students.
Throughout The University of Texas System, we are
developing innovative ways to increase educational capacity.
Our state will need increased intellectual capital to sustain
economic growth in the 21st century. The Top 10 Percent Law is
helping us to achieve that, while building a stronger Texas
for us all.