Sunday, May 06, 2007

Senate votes to change top 10 percent rule

Senate votes to change top 10 percent rule
Plan caps admissions but offers scholarships.
By Jason Embry

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Texas students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes would get a scholarship worth about $1,500 per year to any state university but would not be guaranteed admission to the school of their choice under a plan approved Friday by the Texas Senate.

The Senate voted 28-2 to cap at 60 percent the portion of a university's freshmen from Texas who must be admitted under a 10-year-old policy that guarantees a spot for students who finish in the top 10 percent at Texas public high schools.

The plan to change the state's top 10 percent law would end in 2015. 'It keeps the pressure' on universities to prove they are using the system to maintain diversity, said Sen. Royce West, with Sen. Florence Shapiro.

Sen. Steve Ogden Republican added provision to give students $51 per semester hour in tuition.
The Senate plan, which will now head to the House for consideration, says no more than 50 percent of a university's entering class from Texas must be automatically admitted.

Schools will hand out those automatic slots based on students' grades.

The final 10 percent will be awarded based on grades and other factors, such as test scores and school activities.

About 71 percent of the freshmen entering the University of Texas at Austin last year who went to high school in the state graduated in the top 10 percent. School officials have called for a cap on that rule to give them greater leeway in deciding who gets in and to increase diversity.

"We're changing at the insistence of the University of Texas and many of the members on their Board of Regents, even though when you begin to look at the numbers, in many instances it's working," said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

Some Republican senators said the law needed changing because the rule has denied spots to good students from large, competitive high schools who did not graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he wants more — not fewer — students from the top of their class going to Texas universities. He attached a provision to the Senate plan saying that the state would cover $51 per semester hour in tuition for students who are in the top 10 percent of their class, which would be about $1,500 per year for a student taking 15 hours a semester.

"It's a signal the State of Texas is trying to send to its high school students that if you study hard and work hard, there are immediate benefits," Ogden said.

Students would have to carry full-time course loads and maintain a 2.5 grade-point average to keep the scholarship. The state would give schools the money to make up for those awards, which are expected to cost $25 million the first year and eventually $100 million per year.

Students entering school in fall 2008 would be the first ones affected by the new admission rules and eligible for the scholarships.

Top 10 percent graduates who do not get into the school of their choice would be automatically admitted to any other school in the same university system.

The Legislature wrote the original policy in 1997 in the wake of a federal appeals court decision making affirmative action illegal in Texas college admissions. The U.S. Supreme Court later said race could be considered.

The policy aims to ensure diversity on college campuses, although some question how effective it has been in doing so.

At UT-Austin, African American enrollment went from 3.5 percent of undergraduate, graduate and law students in 1997 to 3.9 percent in fall 2006, and Hispanic enrollment went from 12.6 percent to 15 percent during the same period, according to school records.

The Senate plan would end the new policy in August 2015, reverting to the current top 10 percent law.

"It keeps the pressure on the University of Texas or any other institution to come back to the Legislature and show that they are doing what we want them to do as it relates to maintaining diversity," West said.

Senators voted 18-11 against an amendment to the proposal by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, that would have ended the top 10 percent rule entirely.

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