Texas Affirmative Action Ban: Study Finds Hispanics Are More Underrepresented In Texas Universities

Changes to college admission policy in Texas may be leaving some out - namely Hispanics, according to a study conducted by Princeton researchers Dr. Angel Harris and Dr. Maria Tienda.

Under Texas's new Top 10 Percent program, public universities must enroll students based on their performance in comparison to their high school classmates, rather than with all applicants. The new policy ensures that high school students at the top of their class are admitted, with aims to enroll more students from "poor communities."

But some argue that this policy is not as effective as the prior affirmative action at selecting a racially and ethnically diverse student body.

After analyzing administrative data from the two "most selective public institutions", University of Texas in Austin (UT) and Texas A&M (TAMU), Princeton researchers Harris and Tienda found "an annual decrease in Hispanic applicants of up to 309 at UT, and nearly 500 at TAMU," according to a press release for Springer's journal, "Race and Social Problems".

Harris and Tienda concluded in their study, that the key to ensuring diversity may be cultivating a "college-going culture" in Hispanic communities:

"Our results indicate that it is more helpful to direct attention away from the seemingly irresolvable differences about race or class-rank preferences, and instead encourage greater numbers of students to actually apply for admission. Cultivating college-going cultures at under-resourced high schools is a potential high-impact, relatively low cost, short-term strategy to raise Hispanic college application rates."

William Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas in Austin told The New York Times that a quarter of their admissions are still based on a "holistic review" of candidates, as opposed to the Top 10 Percent program. Such admission choices take into account factors aside from class rank, including "test scores, essays, activities, socioeconomic status, [and] cultural background."

“If a company had 100 applications for five positions and just took the five with the highest grade point average without looking at anything else, I think people would be stunned,” Powers told The New York Times. “Grades are important, but there are other important indicia, like leadership and diligence.”

But not everyone thinks Powers' approach to admissions is fair.

Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz hope to overturn a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court opinion allowing the use of race in the admissions after they were denied admission to UT in 2008. They both believe they were rejected because they are white.

Their brief claims that the UT policy, "benefits African-American and Hispanic students and consequently works to the detriment of White and Asian-American students.” The Supreme Court will rule on their case next fall.

Some believe the Top 10 Percent program is a fairer policy than affirmative action, and still allows for a diverse student body in Texas universities without relying explicitly on racial quotas.

Critics of Top 10 Percent including Princeton researchers Harris and Tienda say the policy has largely failed to usher in racial diversity once seen in the state of Texas.

"Affirmative action or the use of racial quotas for college admissions remain the most efficient policy to diversify college campuses, even in highly segregated states like Texas," they concluded.

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