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Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan and Unintended Consequences

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan and Unintended Consequences

Like nearly all government programs, the Top Ten Percent Plan in Texas has come with unintended consequences. The plan, signed into law in 1997, guarantees admission to the University of Texas Austin and other public universities to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. One of the goals of the plan was to increase racial diversity at the state’s selective universities.
Now a new study has found that the plan may also have increased integration at less competitive high schools in Texas. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that a significant number of students with a choice of high schools have enrolled in less competitive schools to improve their chances of graduating in the top 10 percent of their class.
“Among the subset of students with both motive and opportunity for strategic high school choice, as many as 25 percent enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top 10 percent,” write the study’s co-authors Julie Berry Cullen of the University of California at San Diego, Mark C. Long of the University of Washington and Randall Reback of Barnard College. “Strategic students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of more competitive magnet schools and, regardless of own race, typically displace minority students from the top ten percent pool.”
Ironically, this trend has “slightly” decreased the racial diversity at universities under the Top 10 Percent plan, while also leading to an increase in racial integration at less competitive high schools. In a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard D. Kahlenberg argues that’s a good thing. “Longstanding research has found that low-income students benefit from the presence of higher achieving middle-class peers. …And stronger teachers are more commonly found in mixed-income than high-poverty schools,” he writes.
Tell us what you think.  Should we be “gaming the admissions system” for socially desirable results as Kahlenberg suggests? Or do you side with the critics who contend that higher education stay out of the business of engineering socially desirable results?

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