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Senate Votes to Extend UT-Austin's Admissions Cap

The Senate approved an extension of the University of Texas at Austin's cap on automatic admissions under the state's top 10 percent rule on Tuesday, and members rejected efforts to do away with the rule entirely.

Sen. Kel Seliger R-Amarillo speaks with Sen. Carlos Uresti D-San Antonio on May 13th, 2011

The Texas Senate approved an extension of the University of Texas at Austin's cap on automatic admissions under the state's top 10 percent rule on Tuesday, after rejecting a proposal to do away with the rule entirely.

UT-Austin is currently allowed to cap the number of freshmen receiving automatic admission due to their class ranking at 75 percent of the class. This effectively makes the state's top 10 percent automatic admissions rule for the state a top 7 percent rule at UT-Austin.

House Bill 1843, by House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, extends the sunset date for the cap from the academic year beginning in 2015 to the academic year beginning in 2017.

Proponents of the cap note that without it, UT-Austin's class would be made up entirely of automatically admitted students. Some opponents argue that it limits access by restricting automatic admissions, which were implemented as part of an effort to improve diversity in higher education.

And some lawmakers object to the concept of automatic admissions. When the bill was debated on the Senate floor, state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, proposed an amendment that would repeal the 10 percent rule entirely.

Williams argued that the rule leads to admissions absurdities, such as students being able to get into out-of-state Ivy League schools, but not into the state's top public university. "That is a ridiculous situation," he said.

"I believe that our public universities should look like our state," Williams said. "The best way to accomplish that is a holistic admission standard."

The holistic standards currently used by UT-Austin, which include race as a factor, are currently being mulled over by the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, which challenges the consideration of race in admissions decisions, is expected sometime in the next month.

The current version of Branch's bill leaves language in statute that eliminates the cap if a court or board of regents decides race can no longer factor into admissions decisions. But it adds the same sunset provision to that date as well, forcing the Legislature to revisit the issue in the near future no matter the outcome of the Fisher case.

In Tuesday's debate, Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who sponsored HB 1843, revealed the evolution of his position on the top 10 percent rule, of which he was a vocal opponent in previous sessions.

"Members, this amendment can't be all bad, because I offered it in 2005," Seliger said. "But that was then and this is now."

Seliger said university representatives attest that automatic admissions have had an effect on increasing minority and rural enrollment. "This bill without [Williams'] amendment is the way we really need to go," he said.

Williams' amendment was tabled in a 19-11 vote, and the bill passed out of the Senate with a 29-3 vote.

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