At the University of Texas, Admissions as a Mystery

Ann McClure's picture

Even after 20 years of legal wrangling, admission to the University of Texas — and what role race plays — still has its mysteries.

Part of the process is clear. Under the state’s Top 10 Percent program, Texas students at the top of their high school class are guaranteed admission, filling three-quarters of the slots for in-state students. The process for admitting the other quarter — the part that the United States Supreme Court will consider next fall, in a lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher, a white applicant denied admission in 2008 who said she was discriminated against because of her race — is not so clear cut. For those spots, applicants are rated on factors including test scores, essays, activities, socioeconomic status, cultural background — and race and ethnicity.

The process, known as holistic review, allows the university to shape a diverse class with the interests and talents to make good use of university resources, said William Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas’ flagship campus in Austin.

“If a company had 100 applications for five positions and just took the five with the highest grade point average without looking at anything else, I think people would be stunned,” he said. “Grades are important, but there are other important indicia, like leadership and diligence. Grades don’t tell us who is going to have a proclivity, or aptitude, for geosciences, fine arts or teaching.”

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