Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Lawmakers Again Study 10 Percent Admission Rule

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Legislators are again looking at ways to modify Texas' controversial top 10 percent automatic admission law for state universities.

Citing the unfairness of the law and the way it forces some students to take a lighter course load or even transfer to a different high school, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed a bill this week to eliminate the rule altogether.

"The top 10 percent law is inherently unfair because it uses only one criteria on which to either accept or reject applicants to institutions of higher education in Texas," Wentworth said. "It would be like saying, 'We are not going to consider anything but your SAT score,' and that would be wrong, too."

The top 10 percent rule was enacted after a 1996 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas. But last year, a U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying race could be used as a factor in admissions for public universities.

Since then, officials at the University of Texas at Austin have said they will consider race, while Texas A&M University officials said they will not.

"The reason we passed the top 10 percent rule in 1997 was in reaction to a federal judge's order," Wentworth said. "But that federal judge's order was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, so we don't need this anymore."

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and UT President Larry Faulkner have all called for revisions to the law. Past legislative attempts to change the law have failed.

While Wentworth's bill would eliminate the law altogether, Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, has filed a bill that would reduce the enrollment requirement to the top 5 percent. He said eliminating the rule would not be effective at this point.

"After the Hopwood decision, we felt like there needed to be something to help minorities get into the flagship universities," Goolsby said. "But as time went on, it has gotten out of control, and we need to start phasing it out."

Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, has filed a bill that would allow UT and A&M officials to choose what campus to place a top 10 percent student in. For example, instead of being guaranteed admittance to the flagship in Austin, UT officials could admit a student to the San Antonio campus.

The three legislators who filed the bills agreed that one problem with the current law is that it punishes students who take tougher classes at tougher schools.

Wentworth said it is unfair for a student who takes chemistry, trigonometry and an extra year of foreign language to lose a spot to someone who takes less demanding courses just to raise their grade point average.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he does not support eliminating or changing the rule. He said without it, there would be no affirmative action program in Texas.

"It is very important that we have diversity in our institutions, and this law has provided that," he said.

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