New Limit on the Number of Students to be Admitted to the University of Texas Under the State’s Racial Diversity Rule

In the 1996 Hopwood ruling the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals outlawed race-based affirmative action for admissions to state-operated colleges and universities in Texas. Black admissions to the flagship campus of the University of Texas at Austin dropped by 20 percent in the first year after the Hopwood ruling.

In response, the Texas legislature adopted a “10 percent plan.” Under this admissions procedure, the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class in Texas was guaranteed a spot in the first-year class at a state-operated university of their choice. Thus, 10 percent of the graduating class at all the predominantly black high schools in Dallas and Houston were guaranteed a place in the freshman class at the University of Texas at Austin or at any other state university. The top 10 percent of the class at rural, predominantly black high schools in East Texas were also guaranteed a place at the University of Texas campus of their choice.

Now 70 percent of all students admitted to the prestigious campus of the University of Texas at Austin qualify for admission due to the 10 percent plan. This leaves few spaces for very well-qualified students who finish in the top 20 percent of their class at high schools with rigorous academic curricula. The bottom line is that white students from top-quality suburban high schools with good grades and test scores are being shut out from places at the flagship state university because the 10 percent rule obliges the University of Texas at Austin to admit students from often lower-quality (predominantly minority) high schools who have significantly lower grades and test scores. Critics of the 10 percent rule believe that the admissions program is lowering the overall academic quality of the students at the University of Texas.

Now the Texas state Senate has passed a bill that would permit state universities to cap enrollment under the 10 percent plan to 60 percent of all enrollments. This would open up more spots for high-achieving students who did not finish in the top 10 percent of their class. Most of these students will undoubtedly be white.

The Texas House of Representatives is expected to go along with the measure because it has passed similar proposals twice in the past.

The 10 percent rule has done little to increase racial diversity at the University of Texas at Austin. Today only 4 percent of the 38,000 undergraduates at the university are black, a level similar to what prevailed prior to the Hopwood case.