Monday, May 25, 2009

House moves to scale back top 10 percent rule

The politics surrounding this issue is really worth checking out. Here's the link to the video stream.


By JAY ROOT Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
May 25, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House passed legislation Monday that would scale back the automatic college admissions policy for students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Under the compromise bill, approved on a 121-24 vote, universities could cap the number of Texas students admitted under the program to 75 percent of the entering resident freshman class. The bill would take effect in 2011, affecting students who are high school sophomores this year.

The reforms would expire after six years, giving the Legislature time to judge the impact and either continue the policy or make changes. The legislation also would limit the number of nonresident students to 10 percent of the student body at universities where the cap has taken effect.

The measure is of particular interest to the University of Texas at Austin, where more than 80 percent of the home-state freshman class are admitted under the rule. The school has been pushing the Legislature to allow it to start cutting back on such automatic admissions.

The top 10 percent law was adopted a decade ago after a federal appeals court decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas college admissions. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed universities to use race as one of many decision-making factors.

Efforts to change the policy, or place a cap on the number of students being admitted under it, have fallen apart in past legislative sessions. Opponents of modifying the rule say the law has improved ethnic and geographic diversity at major universities over the past decade.

But UT Austin is on the verge of an admissions crisis, and legislators have heard their cries.

In a passion-filled speech, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, called on UT and other schools to do a better job of attracting qualified minority students but said he wanted to give them more discretion in their admissions process.

"The ball is now in UT's court," Turner said. "I hope they're prepared to run with it on the academic field."

Proponents of the reforms say the top 10 percent law has caused a "brain drain" at UT, prompting exceptional students who fall just outside its parameters to go elsewhere.

"This is about fixing an imbalance," said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, author of the legislation. "What starts here will change UT and I think will improve the University of Texas."

The bill would still give automatic admission to top high school achievers. But it would cap the number universities have to admit. A different version of the legislation passed the Senate in March, so there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome before the bill can become law.

The moves to modify the law has been met with skepticism by some minority groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, spoke out against the legislation. He said Texas universities are not working hard enough to reach out to kids who qualify now under the top 10 percent law now, and he cautioned against changing it.

"The problem is the implementation of the laws," he said. "We have laws and we can trust and pray but we've got to implement the laws."

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