Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

April 24, 2007

Public policy in Texas–I’ve got mine

Filed under: Top Ten Percent Rule — texased @ 10:41 am

Let me start by saying that there are many deserving high school graduates who will not get into UT Austin, one of the state’s two tier one universities (according to US News and World Report which is a whole other issue), because of the top ten percent rule. I think this is something that everyone following the debate can agree upon. The question is what to do about it.

The easy, and definitely Texas style approach, is to get rid of the rule. For many, this makes perfect sense since so many applicants with better qualifications are being turned away from the state’s flagship institution. The supporters of this approach like to focus on qualifications. So lets talk qualifications.

First, don’t even bring up SAT scores. The SAT was suppose to be an indicator of college readiness, of the likelihood that those with higher scores were more likely to succeed at college than those with lower scores. UT’s own analysis shows this is not the case. I’ve already discussed this in previous posts so I won’t do so again here. If it’s not a qualification of potential college success, it’s nothing more than a placement test for college math at best.

How about the general quality of the high school program? People are being rejected even after passing several advanced placement exams and taking dual credit classes. Under the Top Ten Percent Rule, these kids are losing their positions to others who probably have lower gpas and never took any advanced placement classes. This is the crux of their argument, these students are more “qualified” than those who attend lesser schools.

There is a pathetic example of the “faulty logic” behind this argument at what I assume to be a UT student blog. The example uses gymnastics saying the Olympic Team will admit only the top ten percent of all gymnastic competitions so that they have the best, most diverse team. However, since the programs include the special Olympics, you obviously don’t get the best.

Hmmm, so some high schools are at the level of special Olympics compared to others? The problem is that the results do not support the “logic.” The “special Olympic” students are doing very well by all of UT’s own measures. So that must mean that these other students should be admitted because they would do even better than the ones who are already succeeding. And because they’re not being admitted to UT, they’re having to go to out of state, or even to Harvard instead. Not the type of argument to get the people protesting in the street.

What happens next is that those who want to eliminate the rule resort to the diversity argument. What about all those poets, musicians, or students who are working to support their families? The number of minority students admitted will ultimately top out under the top ten percent rule. So where’s the needed flexibility? This would be a much more convincing argument if the stats showed that UT was a beacon for diversity before the rule was implemented. Again, there are more minorities enrolled before the rule had been implemented and more students from a broader geographic region than before. What kind of diversity are we aiming for here?

To sum up, yes, people are being rejected who have more academic “qualifications” than some of those being accepted. So what? Name any competitive school in the nation where that isn’t the case.

I began by saying that focusing on the injustices of the top ten rule is a typical Texas policy response. Why? Because it puts a band-aide on the system without having to recognize the underlying issues of the problem. And that recognition would end up costing a lot more money than just getting rid of the rule.

All these people complaining about how students from less qualified high schools are being admitted don’t want to ask the question why are these schools less qualified? After all, aren’t they all public schools? Never mind, they paid good money to live in a Collin county school district and its up to other families to do the same.

All these people complaining about how students are being rejected by the state’s tier one university and having to go out of state aren’t asking why Texas has only two tier one schools. It doesn’t bother them that twice as much money is being spent on students at UT Austin than on those at UT San Antonio. What bothers them is that it isn’t being spent on their kids. They would rather pay extra to send their kids to an out of state school than invest money in improving Texas schools.

What theTop Ten Percent Rule has done is demonstrated the lack of accessible high quality (at least by reputation) education in Texas. It’s a classic example of the role of a legislature in creating and distributing opportunities–how much pie will Texas pay for and who gets it. Rather than figure out how to make more pies, the Texas legislature just wants to change who gets access to the existing pies.

Any policy that refused to address the basic causes of an issue will eventually fail. Unfortunately, since the effects of the failure won’t necessarily be felt in the next few classes of Texas college students, legislators and citizens are content to just focus on getting their fair share. It kind of makes you wonder about the quality of education they have received–probably from Texas.



  1. College is a place of learning. A place where students with interest and potential go to gain knowledge and skills. Those who argue that high school students who have taken AP classes or more rigorious HS loads are “better” qualified are missing the point. The fact that someone has already done what may in fact be college level work does not in any way mean they are more qualified to learn what the univeristy has to offer. It just menas they are slightly ahead of the learning curve, which in most cases is because of opportunity, not ability.

    Comment by Pam Parker — April 24, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  2. I think that goes to the heart of the problem. Too many of these people don’t see it as a place of learning, they see it as a set of credentials. The learning the occurs is secondary to the fact that they have a piece of paper that says UT-Austin on it or even worst, they were members of a specific club.

    Comment by texased — April 25, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  3. the top 10% rule is may very well promote diversity at the tier schools but at what cost? A kid taking advanced classes in a harder school with better test scores may be rejected strictly because he/she is not in the top 10% where as some with a much lower gpa and worse test scores may be admitted because they did not attend a very competitive school. As i go to the most competitive public school in the state and find myself only in the to 14%, i am outraged to hear that i will most likely not make it, and someone who has not worked as hard as me will automatically make it because they went to a less competitive school, regardless of how much higher my marks and test scores are. The top 10% rule is reverse discrimination at its finest.

    Comment by kodyd — August 31, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

  4. I got in. And I graduated in the bottom 1% of my high school class. But that was 12 years later, after I earned a cumulative GPA of 3.9 at ACC.

    Good look.

    Comment by Hook 'em — December 6, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  5. […] Public policy in Texas–I’ve got mine « Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas […]

    Pingback by Just because they go to a competitive doesn’t mean they have been taught to think « Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas — January 4, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

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