Lawmakers prepare for ramifications of Fisher case on UT admissions

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President William Powers Jr. and Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions, listen to suggestions made by the Senate Higher Education Committee regarding methods of increasing student diversity outside of the top 10 percent Wednesday morning.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Legislature is trying to ensure UT can pursue diversity if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a portion of its admissions policy that considers race.

The Senate Higher Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would extend the University’s exemption from the state’s Top 10 Percent law, which allows automatic admissions for students who graduate within the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class. The bill would move the exemption’s expiration date from fall 2016 to fall 2017.

Under the exemption enacted by the Legislature in 2009, UT admits 75 percent of its students through the Top 10 Percent law and 25 percent under a holistic admissions process that includes race among other factors. President William Powers Jr. told the committee this process allows the University to seek diversity outside of the portion of students admitted based on high school ranking.

“Having this flexibility gives us some tools to continue to learn and improve recruiting minorities,” Powers said.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Fisher v. University of Texas within the next two months. The case was filed against UT by Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the University in 2008. Fisher claims the University’s admissions policies discriminated against her because she is not a member of an underrepresented racial group.

Powers said the University would admit more than 90 percent of its students under the Top 10 Percent law if the Court rules in favor of Fisher, which would undermine the University’s diversity efforts.

Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions, said the combined admissions process allows the University to find students who could contribute to the campus even if they are not within the top 10 percent of their graduating high school class.

“Part of our recruitment agenda is to be sure to find the gems of all of those students,” Ishop said. “[The bill] gives us the breathing room to both pursue our highly qualified Top 10 Percent-ers and in addition pursue those students who are not in the top 10 percent but are potentially robust contributors to the campus.”

So far, those efforts have yielded minimal but steady results.

African-American student enrollment has hovered around 4 percent over the past four years according to UT’s Office of Information Management and Analysis. However, the Hispanic student population has steadily increased from 16.2 percent in fall 2009 to 18.4 percent in fall 2012.

State Sen. Royce West voted in favor of the bill but said he wants to see improved enrollment at the University among minority groups.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I recognize that, but I think that [UT] is moving in the right direction as it relates to diversifying its student population,” West said.

Printed on Thursday, April 4, 2013 as: Bill moved to Senate to curb power of regents