Texas Trumps Hopwood -- Is California Next?

University Testing

Texas Governor George Bush has signed into law controversial legislation which requires the state's universities to accept all applicants who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high schools without regard to standardized test scores. The proposal was specifically designed to counter the negative effects of the Hopwood court decision which banned the use of affirmative action in public college admissions (see Examiner, Spring 1997).


Debate on the proposal was framed by data from the University of Texas Law School indicating that only three African Americans and 20 Latino students were likely to be among the 500 members of the class entering this fall. A year ago, 31 African Americans and 42 Latinos enrolled at the school, one of the nation's top producers of minority attorneys.


The new law allows Texas public universities to extend automatic admissions to students in the top quarter of their high school classes. Other applicants will be evaluated based on institution-specific criteria. "Performance on standardized tests, individually and compared with other students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds" is just one possible factor of more than a dozen listed in the statute. Though individual state campuses have not yet specified the details of their selection systems, Texas public colleges will be test-score optional for many applicants beginning with the fall 1998 entering class.


A similar proposal to guarantee admission to public colleges to top ranking high school graduates is gaining momentum in California where the first results from new policies barring affirmative action in admissions have shocked policymakers, the media and the public. For example, only one African American and 11 Latino students have committed to entering the University of California Law School, known as Boalt Hall, this fall. Last year's comparable figures were 20 and 27.


The huge drop-off comes both from declines in acceptance rates and in enrollments of those who were admitted. Apparently, many students of color now view the California higher education system as hostile to their interests.


With an affirmative action ban for undergraduates going into effect next year, legislators and University of California administrators are giving serious consideration to a plan to offer automatic admission to students in the top four percent of their high school class. Proponents argue that such an standard would reward "merit" far more than the current system in which test scores play a central role. The proposal is likely to kick off an intense debate about the best ways to achieve equity and excellence in the nation's largest public higher college system.