Texas Senate Higher Education Committee

On April 4, the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee voted  to send SB 1530 to the full Senate with a favorable report. The bill, written by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the chairman of the Higher Education Committee, would allow UT to keep a cap on the number of students admitted under the Top 10 Percent Rule if the Supreme Court rules against using race as a factor in admissions decisions in Fisher v. University of Texas — the pending lawsuit filed against the University by Abigail Fisher, a rejected applicant who claims she was denied admission in 2008 due to her race. (Fisher is white.) 

Currently, 75 percent of incoming freshmen are admitted under the Top 10 Percent Rule, while the remaining 25 percent are admitted based on holistic review by the Office of Admissions. In the holistic review process, factors beyond a student’s GPA, such as recommendations, essays, their resume and race are considered.  But the imminent ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas could deem holistic review that considers race unconstitutional. 

Seliger’s bill is necessary because Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, introduced an amendment in 2009 to the bill that originally established the Top 10 Percent Rule. The amendment, called the “Hook ‘em” Amendment, forces UT to accept up to 100 percent of incoming students through the Top 10 Percent Rule if considering race in admissions is deemed unconstitutional. If SB 1530 passes and the Supreme Court rules against UT, the University could continue to admit up to 25 percent of its freshman class through the holistic review process rather than through the Top 10 Percent Rule, although they would no longer consider race. 

If the Supreme Court rules that race cannot be a factor in the admissions process, the “Hook ’em” Amendment would undo SB 175,  a compromise bill passed in 2009 that gave UT more control over who it admits. Prior to SB 175 there was no cap on the percentage of incoming students who were admitted through the Top 10 Percent Rule. 

Gonzales introduced the “Hook ‘em” Amendment because she feared the end result of a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Fisher would be a less racially diverse campus caused by a race-blind holistic admissions process, which would likely diminish the diversity of the 25 percent of students in each incoming class admitted that way. In a September editorial, we pointed out that her fear was unfounded; underrepresented minority students have made up a larger percentage of the automatic admits than those admitted under holistic review. For example, in 2010 and 2011, 6 percent of automatic admissions were granted to black students, while only 5 percent of holistic review admissions were granted to black students. The same trend stands for 2008 and 2009, but it is even more dramatic for Latinos. In 2010, 28 percent of automatically admitted students were Latino, while only 12 percent of holistic review admits were Latinos. In 2011, 29 percent of automatic admits were Latino and 14 percent of holistic review admissions went to Latino students. Overall, 22 percent of the holistic review’s admits are minorities versus 37 percent through the Top 10 Percent Rule.

If the Supreme Court rules that race cannot be a factor in the admissions process, the “Hook ’em” Amendment would undo SB 175,  a compromise bill passed in 2009 that gave UT more control over who it admits. Prior to SB 175 there was no cap on the percentage of incoming students who were admitted through the Top 10 Percent Rule. 

The Senate committee voted unanimously in favor of Seliger’s bill. Prior to that vote, representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund testified that the holistic review process admits fewer minority students than the Top 10 Percent Rule. 

UT President William Powers Jr. and and UT’s Director of Admissions Kedra Ishop, however, gave statistics showing some slight growth in minority enrollment during years when 25 percent of UT admits have come through holistic review. Powers and Ishop provided those number after Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, asked how campus’ racial diversity has changed since SB 175 passed four years ago. Ishop testified that the percentage of African-Americans enrolled in the freshman class — around 5 percent in 2010 — increased by one percentage point between 2010 and 2012, while the percentage of Hispanic students who enrolled remained flat at 25 percent. 

Despite the small, and in some cases nonexistent improvements to the student body’s racial diversity, Sen. West explained his support for Seliger’s bill, which preserves the status quo: “I think that Texas is moving in the right direction as relates to diversifying the student population. I want to send a strong message to Texas today that I’m really supportive of these measures.”

But this eagerness doesn’t line up with the reality of UT’s current admissions policy, which has not had a meaningful impact on the racial diversity of the student body. When asked how SB 175 impacted UT’s efforts to recruit a more racially diverse student body, Powers said “I believe with confidence SB 175 at least didn’t hurt our minority recruiting,” though he conceded that no analysis exists to prove his assertion.

The “Hook ’em” Amendment would mean that 100 percent of UT’s freshmen class could be Top 10 Percent Rule-admitted students as early as 2016, according to Ishop. And while such a scenario would mean less diversity in terms of out-of-state and international students, it also means a likely increase in the racial diversity of the student body since a higher percentage of racial minorities are accepted through the Top 10 Percent Rule than through holistic review.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who serves on the Senate  Higher Education Committee and voted in favor of Seliger’s bill, concluded her questioning of Powers by saying, “Members of the Legislature who want to focus on diversity in the student body really should focus on adequate appropriations so tuition could be lower, and on funding financial aid.”  Powers concurred, later adding that of all of the diversity-enhancing tools at UT’s disposal, financial aid is always the most effective. 

We agree with Sen. Zaffirini’s logic. In order to make the UT student body more diverse, the Legislature should work to make college more accessible to students from a broader variety of backgrounds, be they racial, economic or geographic. We need an admissions strategy that will ensure a fully diverse student body — taking into account factors beyond just race — that will work regardless of the Fisher v. UT ruling or any other by the Supreme Court.