Two States, Two Stories: Florida and Texas Both Have Automatic College Admissions Programs for Top High School Graduates. but One Program Is Facing Intense Criticism While the Other Has Been Largely Irrelevant

Article excerpt

In the 1990s, Florida and Texas stopped using affirmative action as an admissions factor for public universities. Instead, they opted for programs that grant top high school seniors guaranteed admission to its state universities.

Lately the Texas program, signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush in 1997, has a huge bull's-eye attached to it. Critics say Top 10 Percent takes admissions discretion away from state universities and hurts deserving high school seniors who aren't in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes. The Texas Legislature has already defeated one bill that would have watered down the program's impact, and there have been attempts to repeal the Top 10 law altogether.

A measure is currently winding its way through the Texas House of Representatives that would cap the number of Top 10 students coming into a state university's freshman class at 50 percent. This would free up the remaining slots, which could be filled using other admissions criteria.

By contrast, there's no push to dismantle or modify Florida's Talented 20 program, which was created by Bush's younger brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in 1999. Critics say the Talented 20 isn't in anyone's crosshairs because its always been focused more on rhetoric than substance.

Texas' Top 10 law stems from Hopwood v. Texas, a 1996 lawsuit filed on behalf of White University of Texas Law School applicants who believed they were denied admission in favor of less qualified minority applicants.

As a result of the case, Texas received a federal order to scuttle race-conscious state university admissions. Not wishing to derail a system that had been making gains in minority enrollment, Texas politicians, college administrators and faculty established the Top 10 program.

"I helped develop it," says Dr. Jorge Chapa, who at the time was a public affairs professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "What really makes a difference in improving minority admissions is making the requirements for admission clear and unambiguous."

The reason the Top 10 program has so many detractors and opponents in Texas, is "because it's working," says Chapa, presently a sociology professor at the University of Illinois.

At UT-Austin, Texas' flagship school, Hispanic freshman enrollment has increased from 13 percent in 1997 to 19 percent in 2006. Black enrollment dipped to 4 percent in 1997, compared with 5 percent the previous year, but rebounded to 7 percent in 2006. …