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Hispanics in Higher Education and the Texas Top 10% Law

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This paper examines the consequences of changes in Hispanic college enrollment after affirmative action was banned and replaced by an admission guarantee for students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class. We use administrative data on applicants, admittees, and enrollees from the two most selective public institutions and Texas Education Agency data about high schools to evaluate whether and how application, admission, and enrollment rates changed under the three admission regimes. Despite popular claims that the top 10% law has restored diversity to Texas’s public flagships, our analyses that account for secular changes in the size of graduation cohorts show that Hispanics are more disadvantaged relative to whites under the top 10% admission regime at both University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. Simulations of Hispanics’ gains and losses at each stage of the college pipeline reveal that affirmative action is the most efficient policy to diversify college campuses, even in highly segregated states like Texas.

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  1. Hopwood v Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1033 (1996).

  2. UT-Dallas and Texas Tech University also reported sharp declines in the number of minority first time freshmen, as did professional schools.

  3. Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 328 (2003).

  4. Because the Hopwood decision was delivered on March 18, 1996, and applications for the entering class of the fall of 1996 were mostly adjudicated, the Hopwood decision took effect for the entering class of the fall of 1997.

  5. Although Grutter permits narrowly tailored consideration of race in college admissions, the top 10% law explicitly required a full year advance notice before announced changes in admission criteria could take effect. Therefore, no Texas universities could restore affirmative action until fall 2005 admissions.

  6. Our data do not span the post-Grutter period, therefore we can not evaluate changes under the fourth regime that permits affirmative action with the percent plan.

  7. TEA reports higher graduation rates (circa 84%), but Swanson’s Cumulative Promotion Index generates more accurate cohort-estimates. Specifically, the 67% graduation rate indicates that only 67 of every 100 9th grade students will graduate 4 years later.

  8. Administrative data available to us for UT extend through 2003 and for TAMU through 2002. See for further details.

  9. We used publicly available data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to determine which high schools to exclude from the analysis.

  10. The weight used is the product of two separate weights. The first weight accounts for the size of the graduating class by dividing the total number of graduates by 150, which is the average size of graduating classes for the 942 high schools in the sample. Thus, a school with a graduating class size of 600 students will count double that of one with 300 graduates. The second weight accounts for the group specific share of the graduating class.

  11. For parsimony we omit blacks, Asians, and others.

  12. Tabulations available from authors.

  13. In a recent communication to alumni (June, 2008), President Powers noted that in 2006, Texas spent 3.35% of GDP on public education, including post-secondary institutions, compared with 4.24% by California, 4.49% by Michigan, and 4.05 by North Carolina.


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This study was supported by grants from the Ford, Mellon, Hewlett, and Spencer Foundations and NSF (GRANT # SES-0350990). We gratefully acknowledge institutional support from the Office of Population Research (NICHD Grant # R24 H0047879) and programming assistance from Dawn Koffman.

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Correspondence to Angel L. Harris.

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Harris, A.L., Tienda, M. Hispanics in Higher Education and the Texas Top 10% Law. Race Soc Probl 4, 57–67 (2012).

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