by TIM EATON
Scripps Howard Texas Poll
February 28, 2005 — Eighty-two percent of Texans support a law allowing the top 10 percent of high school students in their class admission to any public college or university in the state, according to the Scripps Howard Texas Poll.
But Texans aren’t so enthusiastic about letting universities set their tuition rates, which the Legislature passed in 2003. Fifty-eight percent of Texans disagree with universities setting their own tuition rates and 36 percent agree.
The top 10 percent rule and tuition deregulation were among a series of higher education questions included on this quarter’s Texas Poll.
Some state lawmakers have filed legislation to do away with the top 10 percent rule but supporters say the public clearly wants to keep it. Gary Bledsoe, president of Texas NAACP, said he was encouraged by the numbers.
"I think it’s clear the vast majority of people support the top 10 percent rule," he said. "It’s a colorblind rule."
Among ethnic groups, 87 percent of Hispanics agree with the rule. So do 80 percent of Anglos and 85 percent of blacks.
The top 10 percent law, created by the Legislature in 1997, was the state’s answer to a court ruling outlawing affirmative action at public universities. It was also a way to make sure minorities and students from rural areas are represented at the state’s institutions of higher learning.
But the some elected and university officials say they want to reverse the rule because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows schools consider race during the admission process. Critics also have said the rule dissuades students from taking the most challenging courses.
Meanwhile, Texans also believe it’s important for public colleges and universities to recruit minority students.
Seventy-four percent say it is very important or somewhat important for universities and colleges to recruit minorities — an increase of 6 points from summer 2001.
Among ethnic groups, 92 percent of blacks, 91 percent of Hispanics and 67 percent of Anglos believe minority recruitment is very important or somewhat important.
The increase in support for recruiting minorities could be a reflection of the growing number of minorities in the state, said Angela Valenzuela, a University of Texas at Austin education professor and education chairwoman of the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens.
She also said the state has done well in getting the word out about its Closing the Gaps initiative, a program designed to increase the number of Texans who go to college.
"The campaigns at the state level to close the achievement gap, for a lot of Texans, has heightened their awareness about the importance of recruiting portions of the population that have been historically excluded from higher education," Valenzuela said.
The public sees the top 10 percent rule as a way to do that, Valenzuela said.
The Poll also asked Texans about tuition deregulation and whether Texas public universities are a good value, given the education that students receive.
Eighty-one percent of Texans believe public universities are a good value, up 18 percentage points from 2001. Only 11 percent disagree that the universities are good value and 8 percent don’t know.
Valenzuela said the percentage of people satisfied with the value have looked around and made comparisons.
"When you compare a college education with other states or with private universities, it’s a good buy," Valenzuela said.
Tuition has shot up since 2003. That was the year the Legislature allowed regents of the state’s university systems for the first time to set their own tuitions. At the same time, lawmakers slashed the higher education budget and asked every school to slice out 5 percent from their budgets.
The average increase in tuition statewide went from $1,862 in the fall of 2003 to $2,188 in fall of 2004, a 17.5 percent jump.
The tuition hike was greater at the flagships. Tuition at the University of Texas at Austin leaped 37 percent from the fall 2003. It went from $2,094 to $2,867 in fall 2004.
At Texas A&M University, the tuition jumped 21 percent from $2,450 to $2,974, according to data from Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Even with recent hikes in tuition, many Texas Poll respondents agree that Texas universities were a good value.
"Tuition’s going up everywhere," said Linda Armbruster, 54, of Grapevine and a mother of a 27-year-old daughter who went to college in Indiana. "The tuitions here appear to be lower than they are in the north."