Thursday, March 05, 2009

UT president warns of consequences to automatic-admission law


UT president warns of consequences to automatic-admission law

Freshman summer class, out-of-state students and eventually athletics are at risk, Powers says.

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Thursday, March 05, 2009

The University of Texas might be forced to cancel its entering summer class this year, stop accepting students from other states and countries, and eventually abolish athletics — including football — if the state's automatic-admission law is not scaled back by the state Legislature, the school's president warned Wednesday.

"I'm trying not to let that happen," UT President William Powers Jr. said of such steps. "We're not at that point. But we're at the point of triage in making those kinds of decisions."

Powers made the comments after testifying before the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee, which voted 4-1 to approve a measure limiting a state law that guarantees a student graduating in the top 10 percent of a Texas high school admission to any public university in the state.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, the author of the proposed legislation, said it simply isn't fair to decide admission on the basis of a single factor. Her measure would allow a university to limit the number of students admitted under the top 10 percent law to half of its admissions from Texas.

With UT's support, the proposal now goes to the full Senate, which approved similar legislation two years ago. That attempt later failed in the House.

The flagship campus in Austin is increasingly the school of choice for students in the top 10 percent. Eighty-one percent of UT's freshmen from Texas enrolled under the law this academic year, and Powers said he expected that figure to rise to 86 percent for the entering class this fall.

Under Shapiro's plan, UT would admit students ranking in the top 1 percent, the top 2 percent and so forth until half of the slots were filled. The remaining slots would be filled through what she called a "holistic" examination of the pool of applicants, taking into account leadership, musical and artistic talent, race, ethnicity and other factors.

Without some change to the law, UT will be forced to reject all Texas high school graduates who are not in the top 10 percent by 2013, according to a report by the university. By 2015, the report said, there will be no room in the freshman class for students from other states or countries.

"It has become a crisis for us," Powers said. "We're simply out of space."

Asked about athletics, he said such programs, including football, might also have to be eliminated eventually. Most football players do not rank in the top 10 percent.

University officials thought they had a good chance at scaling back the law two years ago, but the House crushed those hopes at the 11th hour of the legislative session.

The top 10 percent law was enacted by the Legislature in 1997 in an effort to boost minority enrollment after a federal court ruling effectively halted the use of affirmative action in admissions. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003, in a case involving the University of Michigan, that race and ethnicity could be considered, and UT subsequently began doing so.

Enrollment of Hispanics and blacks has not risen significantly since 1997, but many minority lawmakers nevertheless like the law's clear, merit-based guarantee of access for students at every high school in the state — including some with a high proportion of minority students.

Shapiro's plan would apply to all 35 public universities in the state, but no other schools have complained that they can not accommodate the top ten percent students who want to attend.

The Texas NAACP called for no changes to the law.

The law might need to be tweaked, perhaps by capping the number of students who could enroll from each high school, said Luis Figueroa, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"A 50 percent cap is not a tweak," Figueroa said. "It's a wholesale retreat from the top 10 percent plan."; 445-3604

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