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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Unruly behavior

 
 

More than 100 years ago, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli coined the saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Last week, a study released by Princeton sociologist and Texas native Marta Tienda confirms Disraeli was right. Tienda’s report concludes that competitive students in Texas are not being harmed by House Bill 588, which guarantees high school seniors ranking in the top 10 percent of their class a spot at the Texas public university of their choice. Numbers are important in evaluating students for admissions to college, but the single factor of a high school grade point average cannot tell the whole story. The Princeton study does not address the most important failure of the top 10 percent law: the fact that it does not treat all high schools equally. This is a law which is an obstacle to accomplished students and a law that should be dismantled.
Tienda’s ambitious study surveyed 5,200 Texas high school seniors, focusing on those ranking in the second 10 percent of their class. She discovered that approximately one out of every four students from this group of students who wished to attend were denied admission to Texas A&M or the University of Texas. From this she concluded, “It is difficult to argue that second decile students’ access to the public flagships has been undermined by H.B.588.” Even if the numbers did tell the whole story, a more than one in four chance of being rejected still offers little comfort to undergraduate applicants.
What the survey suffers from is the same problem that the top 10 percent law does: It treats all high schools the same. The automatic admissions program means that a student with a 4.0 grade point average who does not place in the top 20 percent of his class at a competitive school must fight for admissions while the valedictorian at a mediocre high school with a 3.5 grade point average is automatically admitted to the school of his choice.
Tienda acknowledges that not all high schools are equal, but the study fails to take into account the varying degree of rigor of each school represented in the survey. Fundamentally, the automatic admissions program is flawed because it bases admittance to college not on a competition among all applicants, but only among the local peers of an applicant. While there is no easy way to compare the difficulty of every individual school, it is clear that qualified Texas students are being turned down at A&M and UT because they do not fall in the top 10 percent.
Tienda devotes much of her study to tearing down the stories of qualified students being rejected from the college of their choice because of the top 10 percent law, calling those stories “anecdotal evidence.” However, when it comes time for her to defend her assertion that qualified students are not being replaced by less qualified students, her only evidence is the stories about how some of those less qualified students are offered admissions by prestigious out-of-state universities. Despite this shortcoming, media outlets have been touting Tienda’s conclusions as hard fact. Interestingly, Tienda may have an agenda for raising support for the automatic admissions program. Her study ends with the conclusion that the “optimal solution for Texas” would be for universities to use race as an admissions factor. Considering that the original support for the top 10 percent law came from affirmative action proponents in the Texas Legislature, Tienda’s assertion that race should count in admissions reveals a potential bias for her support of the program.
The solution to the problem of the top 10 percent law is an overhaul or complete end to the program. Following what California has done, Texas could guarantee automatic admissions to a Texas public university rather than to the school of an applicant’s choice. This would maintain the educational benefits of the program while reducing the number of spots at flagship public schools locked up by underqualified students.
More importantly – and despite the wishes of those such as University of Texas President Larry Faulkner – the students of Texas deserve to be judged based on merit. Set asides in the form of House Bill 588 don’t have a place in the real-world competitive environment of college. This is one time when the numbers do lie.

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