Minority Enrollment Creeps Upward at Texas Universities

Article excerpt

Minority Enrollment Creeps Upward at Texas Universities: New recruitment strategies and the 10 percent law credited with upturn

AUSTIN, Texas -- Black and Latino enrollments are beginning to edge upward again at public universities in Texas after the severe drop caused by the 1996 Hopwood decision, which dismantled affirmative action at Texas's public universities.

Officials at the University of Texas (UT), its law school, and Texas A&M University say they feel encouraged by the demographics of the incoming class.

"I think there's every reason to be encouraged by what we see," said Bruce Walker, UT-Austin admissions director. Walker attributes the slight upturn in minority admissions for fall 1998 to three things: a new state law that requires public universities to accept anyone who is in the top 10 percent of his or her high school graduating class; vigorous recruiting efforts by the university community; and alumni fund-raising campaigns to increase financial aid earmarked for minority students.

Walker's office estimates that the 1998 freshman class will be approximately 3 percent Black. Last year's class was 2 percent African American. Chicanos/Latinos will make up 14 percent of 1998's freshmen as compared to 12 percent in 1997. There will be a total of 6,070 freshmen reporting to the UT-Austin campus in the fall.

About 80 percent of the new law school class has been chosen, said Mike Sharlot, dean of the UT law school. So far, offers of admission have been given to seventeen African Americans, as compared to eleven for all of last year. That number was down from sixty-five in 1996, the last year the law school was able to use its affirmative action program to promote Black and Mexican American enrollment.

So far, forty Mexican Americans have been given law school admission offers. Last year forty offers were extended to Mexican Americans for the entire year. The year before, under affirmative action, seventy Mexican Americans received law school admission offers, said Sharlot.

At Texas A&M, 146 African Americans thus far have confirmed that they will attend Texas A&M in the fall. This compares with 129 at this time last year. Although that is a 13 percent increase, A&M officials warn that they changed the admission schedule and that increase may drop by as much as 5 percent when final figures are completed.

Also, 567 Latinos currently have said they will become A&M freshmen in the fall. Last year at this time, that number was 515. This represents a 10 percent increase.

But the figures also show a much larger group of acceptances overall -- a total of 6,983 compared with 5,332 at this time last year. As a result, the percentages have decreased for incoming Hispanics (down to just over 8 percent from 9.6 percent the previous year) and incoming Blacks (down to 2 percent from 2.4 percent the previous year).

Help from the Legislature

The entering class of 1998 is the second to be chosen under post-Hopwood restrictions on affirmative action.

The Hopwood decision is named after Cheryl Hopwood, one of four Whites who sued the university claiming that they had been unfairly rejected by the law school because of its affirmative action program. Soon afterward, state Attorney General Dan Morales interpreted the ruling to mean that public universities could no longer offer minority scholarships and other financial aid. The case has been in court for several years and involves a series of rulings.

Recently, a U.S. district court judge awarded Hopwood and her co-plaintiffs $1 apiece in damages, determining that she and the others would not have been admitted to the UT law school even if the affirmative action program hadn't been in place. The judge also ordered the university to pay their attorney's and court fees.

The UT system's regents decided to appeal the Hopwood decision. However, because Morales has refused to appeal on the state's behalf, the regents' appeal is being handled by the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins. …