Top 10 Percent Plan Shifts Students to Public Colleges, Study Finds

Texas’ so-called “Top 10 percent plan”—it’s really more of a Top seven percent plan—has been both praised and maligned for offering students graduating at the top of their high school class automatic admission to UT and Texas A&M. Now a new study from three education researchers has gathered compelling new data on how the plan affects students’ college decisions.

Published in Education Next, the study finds that the Top 10 percent plan makes students about 60 percent more likely to enroll at one of the flagships. We asked lead researcher Lindsay Daugherty of the RAND Corporation to break down the findings.

What did this study set out to find?

There’s been a good amount of research on how the Top 10 percent plan affects colleges, but not much research had been done on how it affects students and their decision-making. We wanted to see how Top 10 percent affects students themselves. And we found that it doesn’t affect whether or not a student enrolls, but it does affect where they enroll.

What surprised you the most?

I was surprised to see that in the low-enrolling high schools in the district we studied, the Top 10 percent plan was not really having an impact on their students. We didn’t find an impact on overall enrollment—on whether they decide to go to college at all or not—or on competitiveness. The assumption for some people is these types of policies are going to encourage low-income or minority students to shoot higher and go to the flagships when they would have otherwise gone to community colleges or not gone at all, and we didn’t see any evidence of that. What it is doing is shifting where they enroll, making them more likely to go to a flagship than a private school.

In the [unnamed] district you studied, 58 percent of students in the top 10 percent didn’t go to college at all. That seems really high.

It is. That was another huge surprise for me. This was in a large, urban district with a relatively low college enrollment rate. More research is needed to figure out why that is, but I think it’s because there are other barriers getting in the way, whether it’s the cost of college or a need to work and support the family or any number of other challenges. I do think we’re underestimating slightly because for-profit colleges weren’t included in our data, but it’s still very high. I’m interested in doing more research on this.

Why is studying college competitiveness important?

There’s a lot of data showing that students who attend selective colleges have better outcomes. They’re more likely to graduate in four years, more likely to get a job, and more likely to have a higher salary than their peers at less competitive institutions. Going to a competitive school increases your chance of success later in life. Getting students into more competitive schools is not an explicit goal of the Top 10 percent plan, but a lot of people do expect it to do that—and it’s not doing it.

It’s pretty common for disgruntled parents whose child just missed the cutoff for automatic admission to complain about this plan—to say it pushed out their kid. What do your findings mean for those families?

Well, we found that students in the 11th percentile, or the ones who just missed the cutoff, are not less likely to go to college or more likely to attend a lesser college. They were still equally likely to enroll in a selective college. So Top 10 percent is not hurting those students.

Do these findings mean that the Top 10 percent plan isn’t working?

No, not at all. I really don’t think these findings are negative for the Top 10 percent plan. Because the goal of the plan is to ensure a diverse population within Texas colleges, and it may very well be doing that. If you think about districts like Houston and Dallas and Fort Worth, a lot of these kids would not be able to get into the flagships on their own. It’s really important to think about this in the context of the district.

This week the Supreme Court ruled that states have the right to ban affirmative action plans. Why is research like yours important in that legal context?

I think policies like Top 10 percent are the future for states that ban affirmative action. We need to understand how these policies affect students.



Tags: , , , , ,


1 Comment

Post a Comment