Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Texas Top 10 Percent Rule

Dear Friend,
You asked me about the Texas top 10 percent rule.  It is a rule created by the Texas Legislature.  It guarantees the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class admission to Texas universities.  When Texas thought that its current practice of racial discrimination was going to be declared unconstitutional, the top 10 percent rule was created to force the top universities in Texas to accept under-performing students.  The hope was that the racial and ethnic mixtures would be similar to those achieved through overt racial discrimination.  The top 10 percent rule was a success from that regard.  Yet it is a hazard to education in Texas, as will be discussed soon.

First, however, we should be aware that the universities in Texas added overt racial discrimination on top of the top 10 percent rule.  That is when Abigail Fisher sued (Fisher v University of Texas, No. 11-345).  Her case is finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, October 10, 2012.  What has happened is that state legislators from districts with large numbers of under-performing students are helping the children of their constituents to cut to the head of the line by playing the race card.  The legislature is corrupting the ideal of an academic meritocracy by giving their kids special privileges.  The side effect is that the reputation of Texas universities is declining.

A friend of mine who interviewed for an engineering job up north was told that they almost rejected his resume because he was from Texas.  They told him they don't hire graduates of Texas universities, but they noticed he went to college in Ohio.  Seventy-five percent of the freshman class at UT Austin enters through the 10 percent rule, and many of them would not have gotten in otherwise because they are sub-par.  The legislature has been leaning on the universities to pass the under-performers, so we have social promotion from elementary school all the way through the universities.

Today a diploma from the University of Texas at Austin does not mean much.  An employer has to look at the transcripts, examine the grades, and determine if the UT graduate is a product of social promotion.  Objective assessments like SAT and GRE scores must be examined.  Perhaps individual colleges within UT, like the College of Engineering, the Business School, and the School of Architecture can say that admission to the university does not guarantee admission to their school, but now they have to overcome the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the entire university.

The University of Chicago was founded about the same time as the University of Texas.  The University of Chicago is a world class university.  The University of Texas had a good reputation and was building it up, but then the state legislature shot it in the foot.  The world is becoming increasingly competitive and universities are part of the competition.  The Wall Street Journal ran an article, "Can U.S. Universities Stay on Top?" by Michael J. Silverstein and Abheek Singhi, September 29, 2012, page C3.  The last thing we should be doing in a competitive world is diminishing the quality of our universities.  The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said that if they adopted a top 10 percent rule like UT, the average SAT score of entrants would drop by 55 points ("Justices Face a Test on Race" by Jess Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 10-9-2012, page A3).

Education is vital for a competitive world.  After Germany was defeated by Napoleon in the Battle of Jena in 1806, Germany revamped its education system, developing some of the best universities in the world.  American research universities are modeled after the German universities.  Germany was tough to beat in World War I, tough to defeat in World War II, and is an economic powerhouse today.  Superior education is a key factor in Germany's competitive strength.

Superior education can be a key factor in making Texas more competitive on the world stage.  We must free our best universities -- U.T. Austin, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech -- from the academic damage inflicted by the Texas top 10 percent rule.

Robert Canright