11/02/2012 12:17 pm ET

Top 10 Percent Admissions Reduced At UT-Austin, Likely To Affect Latinos

It just got a little harder for Latinos to get into the University of Texas at Austin.

The Houston Chronicle reported this week that U.T.-Austin will only admit the top 7 percent of the high school graduating class, raising the bar for the highest graded students to enter the flagship university through the state’s non-race-based affirmative action policy.

A Texas law passed in 1997 required public universities to automatically admit the top 10 percent of high school seniors, but the law was reformed in 2009 to give universities more flexibility. Since then, U.T.-Austin has restricted the percentage of top-scoring students it automatically lets in to avoid losing the power to select students by other criteria. Last year, U.T.-Austin automatically admitted the top 9 percent of the graduating class and the top 8 percent the year before that.

The Top 10 Percent law emerged as a way to boost minority admissions after the Supreme Court overturned the use of racial quotas in its 1996 decision on Hopwood v. Texas. (A later decision revised the ruling, making it legal to use race as one of several factors to determine college admissions.)

To get around the problem, Irma Rangel -- the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas legislature -- pushed for the passage of the Top 10 Percent law. In a state where the school system is as segregated as in Texas, the Top 10 Percent law ensured that admissions for Latinos would rise.

And they did. Of the 5,432 students admitted to U.T.-Austin last year under the Top 10 Percent law, 29 percent were Latino. By contrast, only 13 percent of the 2,660 non-top 10 percenters were Latino. Total admissions for Hispanics have jumped from 14 percent in 1996 to 24 percent last academic year.

But the law also created a bottleneck for Texas, where a large chunk of top 10 percenters covet a limited amount of spots at just two schools -- the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A & M.

Three out of four in-state students are admitted to U.T.-Austin under the Top 10 Percent law. The school selects the remaining applicants based on a review of several factors, including race.

A white, non-Hispanic student is challenging the inclusion of race as a factor in admissions, saying she suffered discrimination when U.T.-Austin rejected her application in 2008. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Abigail Fisher’s case this month.



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