NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Effect of Texas' Top 10 Percent Guaranteed Admission Plan

March 18, 2011

Beginning in 1998, all students in the state of Texas who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes were guaranteed admission to any in-state public higher education institution, including the flagships.  While the goal of this policy is to improve college access for disadvantaged and minority students, the use of a school-specific standard to determine eligibility could have unintended consequences, according to researchers Julie Berry Cullen, Mark C. Long and Randall Reback.

Specifically, students may increase their chances of being in the top 10 percent by choosing a high school with lower-achieving peers.

  • The researchers' analysis of students' school transitions between 8th and 10th grade three years before and after the policy change reveals that this incentive influences enrollment choices in the anticipated direction.
  • Among the subset of students with both motive and opportunity for strategic high school choice, as many as 25 percent enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top 10 percent.
  • Strategic students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of more competitive magnet schools and, regardless of their own race, typically displace minority students from the top 10 percent pool.
  • The net effect of strategic behavior is to slightly decrease minority students' representation in the pool.

Source: Julie Berry Cullen, Mark C. Long and Randall Reback, "Jockeying for Position: Strategic High School Choice under Texas' Top 10 Percent Plan," January 2011.

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