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March 4, 2009
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Sen. Shapiro
UT Austin President Bill Powers testifies at a Higher Education Committee about the need for more flexibility under the top ten percent rule for college admissions. He is joined by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro and UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.

(AUSTIN) — The Senate Higher Education Committee approved Wednesday a bill to limit the number of students admitted to a given state university based on automatic admission. Texas passed a rule in 1997 guaranteeing admission to any state school to any high school senior that graduated in the top ten percent in his or her class. Now, university officials at the University of Texas at Austin say this has filled freshmen classes with admissions under this rule, and will soon make the top ten percent rule the only criterion under which students are admitted. Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano, the bill's author, says colleges must use a more holistic approach to recruiting new students. " We should be looking at test scores, special talents, leadership ability, personal achievements, and other relevant student academics, yet we are limiting our students in the state of Texas," she said. While UT Austin is the only state university currently approaching full capacity for top ten percent students, Shapiro said that Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Dallas will soon face a similar problem.

Shapiro's bill, SB 175, would cap the number of admissions in any given freshman class based on the top ten percent rule at half the incoming class. The process will work from the top down: first all the top one percent applicants will be admitted, then the top two percent, and so on until the cap is reached. After this, all additional applicants will be placed in the general applicant pool.

Opponents of the bill say changing this rule will decrease ethnic, geographical and socio-economic diversity at state institutions. UT President Bill Powers testified that this would not happen. "We are absolutely committed to diversity on our campus. It is very important that we educate and train diverse leaders in our state," he said. "This is a capacity issue for us, we simply do not have the room to take all the top ten percent students. It has become a crisis for us, not just in the future, but right now." He said that in last fall's incoming freshman class, 81 percent of students were admitted under the top ten percent rule. Next fall, he said, the number could be as high as 86 percent, with full capacity reached by 2015. Powers said that top ten percent students typically do not enter programs such as music, electrical engineering, geosciences and others, and that admissions officials essentially admit the remaining number of students to fill out these departments. He warned that the university will likely not admit a freshman summer class in order to leave sufficient room for non-top ten percent students in the fall.

The bill passed the committee on a 4-1 vote, and will head to the Senate floor for full consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 9 at 1:30 p.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.