Texas Ten Percent Plan Brings More Students to State’s Flagship Universities

Lindsay Daugherty: Lindsay_Daugherty@rand.org, RAND
Issac McFarlin Jr.: imcfar@umich.edu, University of Michigan
Ashley Inman: ashley_inman@hks.harvard.edu, 707 332-1184, Education Next Communications Office 

Texas Ten Percent Plan Brings More Students to State’s Flagship Universities

But automatic admission causes drop in comparable private and out-of-state colleges

After a federal appellate court declared Texas’s affirmative-action system, based on racial preferences, unconstitutional in 1997, Texas created the Texas Ten Percent Plan (TTP) as a way to maintain diversity in its public universities. The TTP provides students in the top 10 percent of their high school class with automatic admission to any public university in the state, including the state’s flagship colleges — the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M. The program soon became the model for similar policies in Florida and California.

In a new study now online at Education Next and appearing in the Summer 2014 issue of Education Next, three researchers examine the effects the plan has had on college enrollment. They find that eligibility for automatic admission increases the likelihood that students in the top 10 percent of their class, including underrepresented minority students, enroll at a Texas flagship university by almost 60 percent.  However, automatic admission has little effect on overall college enrollment or on the quality of the schools students in the top 10 percent attend.  Instead the program shifts attendance of eligible students from selective private colleges to Texas’s flagship universities.

The authors of the study, Lindsay Daugherty, Paco Martorell, and Isaac McFarlin Jr., focus their analysis on 17,057 graduates from the 2002 through 2008 graduating classes in a large urban school district in Texas that historically has sent few students to college.  To measure the effect of being in the top 10 percent, the authors compared the grade point averages of students whose class rank was just above or just below the cutoff.  The authors observed a large gap in the likelihood of eligible and ineligible students enrolling in a flagship school. “Only about 9 percent of students who just miss being in the top 10 percent enroll in a flagship,” they observed, while 14 percent of those just above the cutoff enroll.

The effect on flagship enrollment does not translate into an overall increase in the likelihood of enrolling in college.  The program reduces enrollment at private colleges by roughly 8 percentage points.  The researchers do find evidence that automatic eligibility leads to attending colleges with lower tuitions, as would be expected if students are attending a public flagship instead of a private college.  However, offering eligibility for automatic admission does not increase access to selective colleges in general.

The researchers found that the effects of automatic admission were concentrated in the district’s most-advantaged schools.  When they compared the percent plan’s effects at high schools with different college-going rates, they found no evidence of increased flagship enrollment for students from high schools with low college-sending rates.  If a key goal of the Texas TTP Plan, and percent plans in other states, is to increase access to top public universities for traditionally underserved populations, the plan does not appear to be accomplishing its goal in the most-disadvantaged schools.

The Texas Ten Percent Plan’s Impact on College Enrollment: Students go to public universities instead of private ones” is available now on https://www.educationnext.org and will appear in the Summer 2014 issue of Education Next.

About the Authors

Lindsay Daugherty is associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. Paco Martorell is economist at the RAND Corporation and research scholar with the Center for Research on Education Policy at the University of Texas at Dallas’s Texas Schools Project. Isaac McFarlin Jr. is assistant research scientist of public policy at the University of Michigan and research scholar with the Center for Research on Education Policy at the University of Texas at Dallas’s Texas Schools Project. Authors are available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For more information about Education Next, please visit: https://www.educationnext.org.

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