Is the Texas 10 Percent Plan Still Necessary?

In 1996 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Hopwood case that the University of Texas and other state-operated educational institutions in Texas could no longer use race as a factor in admissions decisions.

In response, in order to maintain some level of racial diversity at the University of Texas and other public universities, the state legislature in Texas passed a law which stated that any student who finished in the top 10 percent of their high school class was guaranteed a place at the state university of their choice. This included the flagship campus of the University of Texas at Austin. So 10 percent of all graduating students at predominantly black inner-city high schools and at all black high schools in rural areas of East Texas automatically qualified for admission to the Austin campus.

The 10 percent plan was successful in restoring the level of black enrollments at the University of Texas that prevailed prior to the Hopwood ruling. In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Grutter overturned the Hopwood decision. The University of Texas can now use race in its admissions decisions. But the 10 percent rule is still on the books.

So many “top 10 percenters” are filling up places at the Austin campus that there are few spots available for other highly qualified applicants. Today, 81 percent of all students admitted to the university finished in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Many students at the state’s best high schools who finish in the top 20 percent of their high school class, but not the top 10 percent, are being denied admittance to the University of Texas. As a result, many state legislators would like to repeal the 10 percent law, believing that it is bringing down the overall quality of the student body.

But black and Hispanic legislators believe that the 10 percent law is essential if racial diversity is to be maintained. At the current time, blacks are 11 percent of the state’s college-age population but only 5 percent of the student body at the University of Texas.