Holistic review attracts top students

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On April 9, the Texas Senate passed SB 1530, a bill filed by Higher Education Committee Chairman Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. The bill would maintain the cap on students admitted under the Top Ten Percent Rule in the event that the U. S. Supreme Court strikes down UT’s race-conscious holistic admissions policy in the pending case of Fisher v. University of Texas. It also extends the cap from 2015 to 2017. Under existing law, the cap, which mandates that no more than 75 percent of an incoming freshman class can be automatically admitted by the Top Ten Percent Rule, would automatically expire if the Supreme Court deems race-conscious admissions unconstitutional. If that were to happen, almost all of the next incoming freshman class would be admitted based solely on high school rank.

A similar bill filed by House Higher Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, awaits a vote on the House floor.

If either bill passes, the governor signs it and the Supreme Court rules against race-conscious admissions, UT’s admissions results will remain much the same. That’s because the holistic element of UT’s admissions policy, despite the claims of both its supporters and critics, does not actually increase minority enrollment.

According to data released last fall by the Office of Admissions, UT admits lower percentages of African-American and Hispanic students through holistic review than through automatic admission. For example, in 2011, 5 percent of the holistic review admits were African-American compared to 6 percent of the automatic admits. More strikingly, 14 percent of holistic review admits were Hispanic, compared to 29 percent under the Top Ten Percent Rule.

The numbers suggest that the demographic that benefits most from the holistic process are mostly white students from wealthier, more competitive high schools where good grades do not guarantee a spot in the top 10 percent of one’s graduating class.

Applicants from outside of Texas are also advantaged under the holistic process. Only 8.3 percent of UT’s entering freshman class was from out of state in 2010, compared to much larger percentages at comparable institutions. If the cap were to expire, that 8.3 percent would dwindle down to almost nothing.

Regardless of one’s personal opinion on affirmative action, a cap is necessary under the current system. All qualified out-of-state students and in-state students from competitive high schools should not be prevented from attending UT, as they would if the cap were to expire. Moreover, an entirely automatic process would take away all of the benefits of a holistic admissions policy, which gives applicants additional ways — such as essays, admissions tests and extracurricular resumes — to prove their merit beyond simple class rank.

During the Senate Higher Education Committee meeting on April 3 at which the bill was sent to the Senate floor, Kedra Ishop, UT’s vice provost and director of admissions, echoed this sentiment, saying the cap “gives us the breathing room to both pursue our highly qualified Top Ten Percent-ers and in addition pursue those students who are not in the top 10 percent but are potentially robust contributors to the campus.”

It is easy to see the University’s rationale for that goal. However, UT still presents its holistic process as a way to increase campus diversity. That perception is inconsistent with the facts.

Seliger’s bill may prove unnecessary if the Supreme Court rules in UT’s favor, but it is a responsible safeguard, as the decision will likely be issued after the Texas legislative session adjourns until 2015. However, the existing admissions policy is itself inadequate as a means to increase campus diversity, and this bill does not change that.