The top 10 percent rule in Texas gives high-performing high school students automatic admission into the best public universities in the state. But that doesn’t always mean top students from low-income backgrounds will attend.
The Texas Tribune explores the implications of the rule in a new series. One story focuses on two North Texas high schools – Bryan Adams in Dallas ISD and Highland Park High -- and the different ways those students select a college.
Matthew Watkins, a reporter with the Texas Tribune, talks about his visits to Bryan Adams and Highland Park High.
Explore the series.
Here’s the first part of the Tribune story that looks at Bryan Adams and Highland Park High:
At High Schools Just Miles Apart, A World Of Difference In College Paths
by Neena Satija and Matthew Watkins, The Texas Tribune
One school has a planetarium, indoor tennis courts and a parking garage. At the other, hallways were missing ceiling tiles for the first few months of school.
One offers an SAT course over the summer, and the average student’s score is 1217 out of 1600. At the other, classes share copies of SAT prep books. The average score there is 825.
The two Dallas-area schools — Highland Park High School and Bryan Adams High School — are only 10 miles apart, but they might as well be in different countries. Highland Park is nearly 90 percent white and 0 percent economically disadvantaged, according to state data. Bryan Adams is 5 percent white and 84 percent economically disadvantaged.
Such disparities aren’t unique to Texas; across the United States, racial and economic segregation persists in education. But attending a good college is one of the best ways for poor kids to lift themselves out of poverty. And in Texas, there’s a unique law that tries to give students at schools like Bryan Adams an equal shot at getting there.
Students whose grades place them among the top 10 percent of their senior class — whether at a school like Bryan Adams or Highland Park — are guaranteed a spot in any public university in the state. (The exception is UT-Austin, where a student usually needs to be in the top 7 percent to make the cut.)
“We want all our students in Texas to have a fair shot at achieving their dreams,” then-Gov. George W. Bush said in 1997, as he signed the Top 10 Percent Rule into law.
But just promising a student a spot in a top university doesn’t promise that he or she will go. Only one student from Bryan Adams enrolled in UT-Austin last fall, compared with 67 from Highland Park.
According to a Texas Tribune analysis of state data, the story is the same statewide. Of nearly 25,000 seniors who attended Texas’ poorest schools, only 313 enrolled in UT-Austin in 2015. Meanwhile, of the same number from the richest schools, 1,421 enrolled. (The analysis excludes private schools and high schools with fewer than 100 seniors.)
And many of the students from the poorest schools didn’t even apply, according to the Tribune’s analysis. Just 3.4 percent of them were accepted to UT-Austin, even with the automatic admissions rule. UT-Austin accepted 10 percent of students from the richest schools.
People across the political spectrum have touted the Top 10 Percent Rule as a simple, brilliant way to diversify colleges. Black and Hispanic lawmakers fiercely defend it as vital to the success of the students in their districts. Meanwhile, a group of conservatives has rallied around it as a “race-neutral” method that could replace affirmative action.
But while the rule helped boost diversity in Texas college campuses during a short-lived ban on affirmative action, the lingering disparity shows that there are no easy fixes.