Texas’ Ten Percent Plan — guaranteed state university admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class — is worse than affirmative action, argues Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy. Because so many black and Hispanic students attend segregated high schools, the plan has maintained racial and ethic diversity in the state universities. But it’s made it much harder for students who do well at competitive high schools to gain admission based on their honors classes, high test scores and extracurriculars.
Seventy-one percent of the 6,864 Texans in the [UT Austin flagship campus] freshman class are top 10 percenters, compared with 41 percent in the first year the formula was used. That steady growth has frustrated college officials who have seen their flexibility to admit high school class presidents, high SAT scorers, science fair winners, immigrant strivers, artists and the like narrow
Students can game the system by taking easier classes to boost their class rank and transferring in senior year to a weaker high school, Solmin writes.
I suspect few students really transfer and weighting grades for Advanced Placement classes would reward students who challenge themselves. But I’d be very interested in the success rates of 10 percenters admitted with low or mediocre SAT scores. Are they really prepared?
California, which admits the top 4 percent, isn’t seeing a dramatic impact on quality — most kids who do that well are dedicated students — but also isn’t seeing much impact on racial or ethnic diversity. In San Jose, the top 4 percent of graduates at mostly Hispanic high schools tend to be Vietnamese. It takes a lot of segregation to make this work as a substitute for race-based affirmative action.
These plans do improve socioeconomic balance. In addition to minority legislators, the Texas plan is supported strongly by rural legislators who see their low-income white students getting a much better shot at UT and Texas A&M.