NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bush-Backed Percentage Plan for College Admissions Debated

January 20, 2003

President Bush, in explaining why he would urge the Supreme Court to strike down the University of Michigan's race-conscious admissions policies, endorsed an approach that allows all students who graduate near the top of their high school classes to attend state universities -- no matter how bad the school or how low their SAT scores.

Known as the percentage plan, it applies to students graduating in the top 4 percent of their classes in California, the top 10 percent in Texas and the top 20 percent in Florida. The plan has many supporters, on both the left and the right.

Critics contend it is based on the racial segregation of high schools and may damage admission standards. They also question the plans' constitutionality.

President Bush has trumpeted the Texas system, which was enacted while he was governor there.

  • After a federal appeals court barred the use of race at the University of Texas (upholding the 1996 Hopwood decision), the percentage of black freshmen dropped to 2.7 percent in 1997 -- after ranging from 4.1 to 5.6 percent in the prior five years.
  • After the percentage plan began in 1998, that number rose to between 3.3 and 4.1 percent -- while Hispanic representation, which peaked at 16.1 percent in 1993, stood at 14.3 percent in 2002.

While those numbers would seem to vindicate the percentage plan, critics contend that Texas' college-age black and Hispanic population grew significantly during those years -- meaning they were less well-represented proportional to their population than the figures would indicate.

Source: Adam Liptak, "Affirmative Action by Any Other Name," New York Times, January 19, 2003.


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