TEXAS, the other state affected by an affirmative action ban for the last several
years, has not spent nearly as much money on pre-college outreach programs as has
That may be partly explained by the lower level of competition for seats at Texas'
top universities. Whereas 31,000 students sought one of 3,500 seats in UC Berkeley's
current freshman class, the University of Texas' Austin flagship received 18,000
applications for 6,500 slots.
"They're so much less selective," noted Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl,
who served as UT-Austin's president for four years before moving to Berkeley. In
California, even students in the top four percent of their class, who will now be
considered eligible for UC if they complete the right courses, won't be able to choose
which one of UC's eight undergraduate campuses they attend.
Andrea Venezia, a researcher at Stanford University, noted that Texans don't view
their university system in the same hierarchical fashion as do Californians. Many
students, she said, are content to attend the campus in their region.
Besides being less selective, UT-Austin also has been less diverse -- with 18
percent underrepresented minorities in the final years of affirmative action, compared
with 23 percent at Berkeley.
After a federal court decision outlawed preferences, the proportion of underrepresented
minorities in UT-Austin's freshman class dropped significantly, but this year it
has returned to 18 percent. Admissions director Bruce Walker credits the state's
$100 million scholarship program for needy students who complete a series of college-prep
courses, together with a 1997 law guaranteeing students in the top ten percent in
each high school graduating class a seat at the public university of their choosing.
Though Texas' outreach picture hasn't changed as dramatically as California's,
Texas universities continue to run various outreach programs. The El Paso Collaborative
linking UT-El Paso and area school districts, for example, is a national model for
Another highly successful program that is now being replicated in Newark and Los
Angeles has been Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) in Houston. This
collaboration among corporations, universities and schools has resulted in higher
test scores, as well as fewer discipline problems.
No statewide inventory of the various school projects exists, and policy makers
do not know how much is being spent on them. Only one Texas program is mandated by
the state: a million-dollar network of six outreach centers that serves about 3,000
students a year.
"Right now, there's not a state strategy. The schools do it on their own
individually," said Lynn Rodriguez, director of access and equity at the Texas
Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Texas has spent money on a different kind of outreach altogether: financial aid.
The legislature has authorized $100 million in scholarships for needy students who
complete a series of college-prep courses. The UT-Austin campus, meanwhile, has identified
about 60 high schools where test scores and family incomes fall well below state
averages. Up to six students from each school are eligible for $4,000 scholarships
to attend the university.
That is not to say Texas has ignored the racial divide in K-12 education. Instead
of channeling money and policies through higher education, the state has gone directly
to public schools.
For example, an accountability system launched in the 1980s and ramped up in 1993
mandates that if fewer than half of any sub-group of a school's students -- whether
African American, white, Hispanic or poor -- passed the state's tenth grade achievement
test, the school would be labeled "low-performing," and a monitor could
That system, while raising the performance of students across the board, yielded
dramatic improvements in the pass rates of minority students, according to state
officials. Last year, 68 percent of African Americans and 66 percent of Hispanic
students passed the test, compared with just 29 percent and 35 percent five years
But the test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), has not been free
of controversy. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has
argued that the test is unfair to minorities, saying the pass rates are skewed because
minority dropout rates increased after the test was implemented.
To the extent that Texas education has improved, MALDEF attorney Al Kauffman credits
more equitable funding, smaller class sizes and higher teacher salaries -- not the
TAAS. However, a federal judge recently rejected MALDEF's argument, saying the test
does not discriminate against minorities, and therefore can be used as a graduation
-- Pamela Burdman