The Texas Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would allow the University of Texas at Austin to maintain its current cap on automatic admissions — at least until 2017 — no matter the outcome of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
A decision in the Fisher case, which challenges the university's consideration of race as a factor in admissions decisions for students who are not automatically admitted under the state's "Top 10 Percent" law, is expected in the coming months.
Under the state's current law, if a judge rules or a governing board decides that UT's admissions office cannot consider race, then it can no longer restrict automatic admissions at the school. Currently, the school is allowed to cap the portion of students admitted automatically because they graduated in the top 10 percent of their class to 75 percent of the incoming freshman class. That makes automatic admission to UT only available to students in about the top 7 percent of their high school class, rather than the top 10 percent.
Without the cap, UT argues that virtually its entire freshman class would be admitted automatically, eliminating any ability for the university's to consider other factors in admissions.
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Senate Bill 1530, by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would allow the cap to continue after the Supreme Court's decision and would extend the cap to the school year beginning in the fall of 2017. The cap is currently set to expire in 2015.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, noted that the state's automatic admissions laws were created in response to "documented historic discrimination," and she questioned why it was necessary to pass the bill during this session rather than wait and see how the Fisher case plays out.
"I think we just run out of time," Seliger said, asserting that it would be difficult for UT to develop alternative admissions strategies that guarantee diversity by 2015.
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, did not support the bill because Seliger refused to raise the cap so that 80 percent of admissions would be automatic.
Seliger contended that an 80 percent cap was no more or less arbitrary than 75 percent cap. He also argued that testimony in committee alleging that his bill would decrease minority enrollments was "false and misleading."
His bill passed out of the Senate with a vote of 25-6 and is bound for the House, where a similar bill, House Bill 1843, by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, recently passed out of committee.
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