Saturday, May 14, 2005

Senate's top 10 tweak is best

EDITORIAL BOARD / Austin Am-Statesman
Saturday, May 14, 2005

Texas needs a fair college admissions law that attracts the state's brightest and best students from across its vast geographic areas. It should be an admissions law that promotes ethnic and racial diversity and gives students who tackle tougher courses an advantage over those who opt for easy ones.

The Texas Senate found a way to do just that — it took a good law and made it better. Not so the Texas House of Representatives, whose members took a narrow approach that would erode years of progress in populating universities with smart, talented kids of all races and income levels. The Senate plan establishes a level playing field for all students, while the House plan gives an unfair advantage to students in affluent suburban districts.

Under the House plan, public colleges and universities would fill no more than 50 percent of their freshman classes with students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Currently, there is no limit. The change would permit colleges and universities to admit other students using criteria besides grade point average, — such as SAT scores or a particular talent — over students who make the best grades and work the hardest.

Both the House and Senate plans would require students to take the advanced high school curriculum to be eligible for top 10 percent admissions. The Senate plan also includes incentives for students who take advanced placement or magnet courses, giving extra points to increase their chances for admission under the top 10 percent law.

The House policy does speak to concerns raised by University of Texas at Austin administrators who have complained that their freshman seats are increasingly being filled with top 10 percent students. We don't see the problem there. Top 10 percent students typically have the highest SAT scores, work the hardest to get ahead, are more likely to possess special talents and have overcome economic and social obstacles to rise to the top of their class.

Who can be more deserving that that?

According to UT figures, students who gain admission under the top 10 percent rule stay in college in greater numbers and graduate faster than non-top 10 percent students. In short, they outperform their non-top 10 percent peers. Why not reward those students? Again we ask, who else is more deserving?

It's worth noting the words of Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, who cautioned that imposing a cap on the number of students admitted to UT under the top 10 percent law could erode racial and ethnic diversity on that campus for a few years.

But the top 10 percent law has done more than enhance diversity; it has given every high school student an incentive to work hard and get good grades. Cutting it back would dampen students' motivation.

All that makes for a clear choice: the Senate plan is the best for Texas.

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