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National CrossTalk
Spring 1999 National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

News
1 of 4 Stories

Texas' Demographic Challenge
New programs attempt to substitute for race-based admissions policies


By Carl Irving

Austin, Texas

  Students at the University of Texas
  New admissions policies and a large state scholarship program are expected to increase Hispanic enrollment at the University of Texas, Austin, where they were only 13 percent of last fall's freshman class.
   
TWO YEARS AFTER a federal court barred use of race in admissions, Texas has responded by liberalizing admissions policies at public campuses and by preparing to launch a massive scholarship effort aimed at low-income minority students.

The new law, which requires automatic admission for students who graduate with grade point averages in the top ten percent of their high school classes, made little difference last fall, a year after the court ruling led to a drop in African American and Hispanic undergraduate enrollments at the state' s two most selective public institutions -- the University of Texas at Austin and the main Texas A&M campus in College Station.

One reason, educators and political leaders believe, is that many poor minority students can' t afford to attend Austin or College Station (or some of the state' s 33 other public universities and colleges) even if they are admitted. So legislators from both political parties have united in support of a permanent scholarship program that initially may provide more than $160 million to finance about 50,000 four-year scholarships, covering tuition and fees. More than half of these scholarships are expected to go to poor and segregated students, mostly Hispanic and African American.

In addition, UT-Austin, Texas A&M and other campuses have expanded counseling and recruiting efforts, and special scholarship programs, financed by staff and campus funds, to recruit and retain more minority students.

Behind all these moves is growing awareness among Texas leaders, across the political spectrum, that the widening chasm between the more affluent, mostly Anglo, and the unskilled poor, mostly African American and Hispanic, threatens the state' s economic future.

There are scary predictions that Texas' bright prospects will fade if a growing portion of the population fails to provide skills and customers to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy. In nine years, Anglos, who dominate enrollment in most colleges and universities in this state, are expected to become a minority.

By 2030, according to these projections, Hispanics will increase from 26 to 46 percent of the population, and Anglos will shrink to 36 percent, nearly parallel to demographic predictions for California. Yet Hispanics make up only 13 percent of freshmen enrolled at the Austin campus and nine percent at College Station, even though they totaled 31 percent of state high school graduates last spring.

If this disparity persists, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board predicts a gap that, by 2015, would encompass 250,000 Hispanic and African American non-students of college age. "That would mean 250,000 poorly prepared for jobs requiring increasing skills," said Steve H. Murdock, director of Texas A&M' s strategic policies research group and an influential witness at legislative hearings this year.

"If you look at the demographics in the future of Texas, it' s tied to its minority population, because of the proportion and extent of what' s to come," Murdock said in an interview. "Unless we alter the socioeconomic achievement levels, Texas could be a poorer and less competitive state than it is today."

Texas history brims over with natural and economic turbulence -- droughts, floods, plunging prices for crops, livestock and oil, disastrous bankruptcies by giant savings and loans. But some fear even graver and more lasting consequences if the state ignores the impact of these trends in population, education and income. That and the presidential prospects of Governor George W. Bush have been leading topics during the current biennial legislative session in the state capital.

The drive to deal with this demographic challenge has a special Texas flavor:

  • "It doesn' t matter if you are a right wing racist," said one influential state official, "if you share interest in education to make sure that the state can compete."

  • "You see very high levels of involvement in community affairs in Texas," says Uri Treisman, a math professor at the Austin campus, who came here from Berkeley a decade ago. "I know of no other place where there is this kind of community."

  • "The future of Texas absolutely depends on being able to educate minority and disadvantaged students to a potential we have never done before," said John Stevens, executive director for the Texas Business and Education Coalition, which includes many of Texas' leading business enterprises. Political leaders from both parties agree.

  • "If the state accepts its responsibilities, we' ll have a better atmosphere, and no one will say they' re giving us handouts," said Representative Irma Rangel, a liberal Democrat and chairwoman of the Mexican American Caucus and the House Higher Education Committee.

  • "Texas has undergone huge social, cultural and economic changes," said State Senator TeelBivins, a conservative Republican, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and holds the honorary title of senate president protem. "The implications for Texas are quite alarming. It strikes me that education is the answer to all our woes."

  Professor David Montejano
  David Montejano, a University of Texas history professor, helped draft the new admissions policy, which makes the top ten percent in every Texas high school eligible for admission to any state university.
   
While many perceive the need for more and better education, some see obstacles rooted in the past. Texas has had a "thick history of segregation and exclusion," said David Montejano, an historian and director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at UT-Austin. He contends that a long history of Anglo discrimination has left Hispanics and African Americans clear-headed about where they stand in Texas: "Jim Crow segregation created highly organized minority communities that have long understood the dynamics of realpolitik. There has never been any illusion that Texas was a liberal state."

Most Hispanic and African American students attend essentially segregated elementary and high schools -- with Hispanics concentrated in south Texas and African Americans in the larger cities and in east Texas. The two minorities are mostly clustered at 40 percent of the state' s 1,885 high schools, where they comprise more than half of the enrollments, according to Ed Fuller, a research specialist at the Austin campus.

Affirmative action "was an attempt, in the short run, to assure social peace" during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ' 70s, and, in the long run, to develop significant minority middle class communities, Montejano said.

The suit that halted affirmative action was brought by Cheryl J. Hopwood and three other Anglo students, who contended they had been denied admission to the law school at UT-Austin because of racial quotas. A panel of federal appellate judges agreed, and ordered the law school to switch to admissions without regard to race.

Related information  
In the Cross Hairs
States wrestle with affirmative action policies
 
Later in 1996, former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales expanded the ruling to all public and private campuses, saying it affected "all internal institutional policies, including admissions, financial aid, scholarships, fellowships, recruitment and retention, among others."

Last May, the University of Texas Board of Regents voted unanimously to appeal the ruling, but officials here operate on the assumption that the Hopwood decision will not be reversed. In a statement to faculty, staff and students last November, UT-Austin President Larry R. Faulkner said, "I believe that America and Texas will be healthier if we can find methods that do not involve race as a criterion in admissions or financial aid, yet succeed in promoting inclusions and diversity as well as (or better than) the established race-sensitive policies."

Montejano, consulting with other scholars and legislators, drafted the initial ten percent plan, limited to the Austin campus and the main campus of Texas A&M, the only public campuses in Texas that receive more applications from qualified students than they can admit. Before the Hopwood decision, both campuses had sought to diversify enrollment by using race as a factor in admitting students.

"The philosophical rationale for the ten percent plan was based on common sense," Montejano said, because it admitted students without regard to region or school district wealth. The proposal ignored SAT scores and did not require college prep courses. It thus gave equal status to largely segregated high schools in poorer regions.

  Director of Admissions Bruce Walker
  The Austin campus "has been mobilized" to recruit more minority students, said Director of Admissions Bruce Walker.
   
Legislators subsequently amended Montejano' s proposal to include all public campuses in Texas, reasoning that a broader ten percent rule would both encourage achieving students and overcome lingering biases.

Rangel led the effort in the lower house to gain passage for the ten percent admissions bill. "I wanted to send them (the Anglo majority) a message," she said in an interview. "I told them that Îwhen you were only learning to read and write, I was also learning to speak... You have to let us have our rights, what you took from us 100 years ago.' "

Rangel, the daughter of "very poor parents," grew up in Kingsville, close to the Mexican border. Her father taught himself to read and write, and progressed from picking cotton to owning a string of barber shops and saloons. Representative Rangel graduated from Texas A&I University in Kingsville and taught until she earned a law degree 17 years later in San Antonio. In 1977, she became the first Mexican American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

Rangel resisted efforts, mostly by Republicans, to require that the "top ten" had to take college prep courses. "We don' t guarantee degrees, but we want to provide an opportunity to prove one' s ability and worth," she said. "We' re not lowering (academic) standards; we are reducing admissions standards."

The bill passed in 1997 because "it had the support of a coalition of people who believe in fairness and opportunity," said UT-Austin Provost Ricardo Romo, who will become president of the University of Texas at San Antonio next fall. "Without the rural Anglos, we wouldn' t have gotten it through. The same people who favored a ban on affirmative action also oppose segregation."

Governor Bush signed the bill on May 20, 1997, guaranteeing automatic college admission for approximately 21,000 graduating seniors that spring, saying, "we want all our students in Texas to have a fair shot at achieving their dreams, and this legislation gives them that fair shot if they are willing to work for it." The ceremony took place in Brownsville, on the Mexican border, in the "Valley," the huge, mostly Hispanic region in south Texas.

But the governor proposed no funding for financial aid, and Hispanic and other minority enrollments remained essentially flat.

Yet qualifying for the top ten percent academic level has become a competitive goal in many Texas high schools. At two predominantly Hispanic schools in Harlingen, 25 miles northwest of Brownsville, students cluster as never before around the latest postings of grade rankings calculated on the computer, according to interviews with students and school officials.

Counselors said that even though the top 25 percent will be admitted to most public Texas colleges, reaching the top ten percent category now carries prestige comparable to achievement in sports.

All those competing to qualify for the top ten are taking college prep courses, the counselors said.

  Professor Robert Jensen
  Journalism Professor Robert Jensen says the University of Texas "wasn't a very hospitable place for minority students," even when affirmative action policies were in place.
   
Promising Hispanic students in this region have benefited from an end to affirmative action, because it sparked unprecedented recruiting efforts by prominent out-of-state campuses.

A "college night" in Harlingen last winter brought recruiters from more than 70 out-of-state campuses, including MIT, Caltech, Notre Dame, Stanford, Georgetown, Duke and Princeton, according to Harlingen High School Counselor Shirley M. Snavely. "We' ve had many of our best students go out of state the last two years," she said.

"They come here seeking nice safe Hispanic kids from stable families, to diversify their enrollment," a Harlingen school official commented. Two summers ago, a math teacher at Harlingen High School took nine students to Ohio to check out college prospects, and four enrolled on scholarships. Fifteen did so on a second visit to Ohio campuses last summer.

"I was skeptical about such reports, but it turns out to be true," said William P. Hobby, who was lieutenant governor from 1973 until 1991 and later became chancellor of the University of Houston. "The University of Oklahoma lowered out-of-state tuition and offered scholarships with racial preferences. Besides, blacks and browns took Hopwood as hostile, and that included blue chippers."

Jabar Shumate, a spokesman for the Oklahoma campus at Norman said a full-time recruiter is based in Dallas, where a large number of alumni live. "We didn' t start recruiting minorities after Hopwood, but we undoubtedly benefitted," he said.

All that exacerbated a problem for Texas, a net importer of college graduates, which awards college degrees at a rate 14 percent below the national average. A post-Hopwood survey directed by Texas A&M' s Steve Murdock found that for the first time in Texas many of the best minority students, including half of the African Americans who had been accepted at the Austin and College Station campuses, enrolled out of state, primarily for financial reasons.

"The results suggest that if more selective institutions (such as Austin and Texas A&M) are to compete for such students, they must find means to address the financial needs of African American and Hispanic students," Murdock said.

State Senator Bill Ratliff, chairman of the Finance Committee and one of the leaders of the Republican majority in the upper house, has asked the Republican attorney general, John Cornyn, to review his predecessor' s ruling that the affirmative action ban should apply to student aid. "If our best students can be attracted away with student assistance that we can' t give them, that' s a problem," he said.

More than three fourths of African American and Hispanic students need financial aid. On average, a year of study at a Texas public campus costs $10,000, one of the lowest amounts among large industrial states. Yet that can be a high cost for minority students in Texas: 44 percent of African American students who enroll at Prairie View A&M (a mostly African American campus), come from households with annual incomes of less than $14,000, according to Murdock.

Provost Romo estimates that the Hopwood decision cost the campus about $4 million in campus scholarships that had been earmarked for minority students. Interviewed at the Austin campus, minority students and their advisors constantly alluded to financial needs. Diana Velazquez (a sophomore from Dallas who was in the top five percent of her high school class, and who plans to major in anthropology and Mexican American studies) says she and other Hispanic students find financial aid to be scarce at the sprawling campus, which enrolls 48,000 students.

She has qualified for work-study, to help pay rent and other bills. She reflected the views of other minority students interviewed, when she said she must frequently clear up misunderstandings by "a lot of people who assume affirmative action brought me here. I told them it was merit based."

  Irma Rangel
  Irma Rangel, the first Mexican American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives, led the campaign for the ten percent admissions policy.
   
The move toward state scholarships, following the Hopwood decision, got wide attention last fall when a commission of campus officials and sympathetic civic leaders, headed by Hobby, contended that "at every point in the educational pipeline, from high school graduation through professional degrees, minorities lose ground." The commission recommended a huge state scholarship program, beginning with $500 million over the first two years.

Unlike most other heavily populated states, Texas does not have a large state financial aid program. There is no equivalent to California' s Calgrant program, which began as an effort to enable more students to attend private colleges and universities, but has become a major source of financial support for University of California students.

A bill introduced earlier this year by Representative Henry Cuellar of Laredo, education subcommittee chairman for the State House Appropriations Committee, proposes spending $200 million. "In my heart I agree with Hobby, but $100 million to $200 million probably is more realistic," Cuellar said in an interview. Cuellar and others say they have not heard any public protests from any member of the biennial legislature, which concludes its 140-day session at the end of May.

Unlike the ten percent automatic admissions program, students will have to take college prep courses to qualify for a scholarship, which would cover all tuition and fee charges for four years if they make satisfactory progress toward a degree. The Austin campus charges about $3,400 in tuition and fees per academic year, while average annual tuition and fee charges total $2,281 at the 35 degree-awarding public campuses and $774 in the 50 community college districts.

If the scholarship bill allocates $163 million, as predicted, the amount would support 33,000 qualified and needy students in the first year and 56,000 by the second year. About 60 percent of the scholarships would be granted to Hispanics and African Americans, because of their greater economic needs, according to an analysis by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Democrats are pushing for an eligibility ceiling of $25,000 in family income, while Republicans want a $75,000 ceiling, which would make more middle class students eligible for the scholarships.

Other bills proposed spending $30 to $35 million for counseling to help retain "economically disadvantaged" students at the campuses, and $50 million for students who intend to become school teachers.

"There is no parallel to this in the history of Texas," said Cuellar, a Democrat and member of the Mexican American caucus. Legislators in both parties voiced optimism about the bill' s chances for passage and the likelihood that it will be signed by Governor Bush.

In an effort to supplement the state scholarships, the Austin campus has created a Longhorn Opportunity Program, which concentrates on high schools with large numbers of low-income students. A computer search found 49 of them that apparently never have sent students to Austin. Campus officials offered up to 150 four-year scholarships covering tuition costs for those with the greatest need among the top ten percent graduating from those schools, as well as others in inner city districts of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso and Fort Worth.

A group of UT-Austin alumni has raised more than $3.5 million for what are called post-Hopwood scholarships. Contributors are divided about the wisdom of the Hopwood decision, said Austin attorney Larry Temple, who heads the group. But all agree that racial diversity, and financial aid to maintain it, are "critically important to the university and the state."

Related information  
Minority Freshman Enrolled  
The ban on affirmative action also has affected private campuses, which enroll 12 percent of Texas college students. A year after the Hopwood decision, Rice University, the most prestigious private university in the state, saw the number of Hispanic freshmen fall from 111 to 56 students. A subsequent survey found "a brain drain," according to Robert M. Stein, dean of social sciences. "The best black and brown students went to the Ivy League and Stanford. They rarely come back to the state after they graduate. That' s what really hurts. They were denied financial aid here so they went to a Stanford, where the tuition' s twice as much."

Campus efforts to reach out to minority students have been aimed at segregated schools, with some early evidence of success at UT-Austin. Over the past year, the campus organized 350 "college fair" programs and added more than 250 high schools to its recruiting visits. In a joint effort with Texas A&M, the Austin campus expanded "outreach" centers for students from the seventh grade through high school.

UT-Austin "has been mobilized," said Bruce Walker, director of admissions and associate vice president for student affairs. Officials have allocated an extra $500,000 for counseling and recruiting. The admissions office hired four extra staff members.

Thousands of enrolled students have called potential applicants and visited their high schools. Last fall, they mailed post cards with hand written notes to such students and personally contacted 21,000 more by phone.

"We wanted to tell students that though this is a large campus, it' s possible to look at it as a more welcoming place than they might have imagined," Walker said. "We' re more intense now about our counselors going to high schools. Where they might have made a single trip in the past, they now may go back three more times."

Last fall, enrollments of Hispanic and African American freshmen at Austin and College Station remained essentially flat, slightly below pre-Hopwood levels. Both admissions offices say it probably will require several years before any decisive trends can be charted.

But Walker did get some hopeful news this spring: Compared to last year' s figures, freshman applications from African American students increased more than 30 percent, while applications from Hispanics increased 17 percent. Walker attributes the increase to a change in tactics -- concentrating less on individual students and more on segregated campuses.

There was concern last spring and summer that "top ten" high school graduates would swamp Austin and College Station in the fall. But only about half of the applicants turned out to be in that category. The admissions offices also found no substance to fears that some top ten percent students would have ducked tough courses or lacked access to college prep level studies. "Many had predicted that this would dilute quality, but only 12 of 10,000 applicants lacked proper courses, and only five of them showed up," UT-Austin Provost Romo said.

Texas elementary schools have done well in some recent national rankings, especially in early grades. In 1996, African American fourth graders in Texas ranked first on the math tests given as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared with African American students at the same grade level in 36 other states; Texan Hispanics ranked sixth. Comparable rankings for the same groups in California were 36th and 39th, respectively.

A 1997 survey by the Texas Education Agency, which oversees elementary and secondary schools, found that even the smallest and most remote high schools had equipped themselves to offer all the courses recommended for college. Ann Smisko, associate commissioner for curriculum assessment and technology, said more than 60 high schools in poor districts that formerly had been unable to do so now offered courses such as physics either in the classroom or online.

Assuming that the ten percent provision will ultimately increase minority enrollment, Romo conceded that might harm chances for admission among middle class minority students who don' t make the top ten percent at more integrated, more competitive suburban and city schools. "We' re not wedded to this (approach), but it does assure people that this institution belongs to all Texans and not to some privileged, elite class," Romo said. Officials also foresee some budget benefits in the legislature, as more students come from remote districts.

"We have our elementary and middle schools moving in the right direction," said Treisman, nationally prominent for his efforts to upgrade math and science education in the public schools. "Now comes the hardest part: How do we strengthen the high schools? No one believes you can fix the high schools without looking at the internal policies of universities and the messages they send to the high schools."

The campus "messages" sometimes fall short. Counselors at the Harlingen high schools said they get no feedback about how their graduates fare beyond the freshman year -- whether they drop out, what they study, and when they graduate. A legislative proposal to require the campuses to provide such information was killed in committee, after strenuous objections from higher education officials about excessive costs and labor.

Officials at UT-Austin must struggle with problems common to large state universities lacking in the kinds of personal contacts that are possible at smaller campuses. Last fall, a survey found that four years after enrolling at the Austin campus, 35 percent of African Americans, 34 percent of Hispanics and 29 percent of Anglos had dropped out.

The abrupt ban on affirmative action left a negative feeling of being unwanted at Austin, said Margarita Arellano, assistant dean in charge of retention services. "We' re not recruiting as many as we should because of frustration and fear and offers from out of state. Hopwood added another negative, and students tell me, Îmy brother and sister aren' t coming here because of that decision.' "
"It' s been a really ugly transition," Montejano said. "The administrators feel like they have their hands tied because of potential lawsuits, so they aren' t really doing anything."

"Even with affirmative action, this wasn' t a very hospitable place for minority students," said Robert Jensen, associate professor of journalism at Austin. "UT' s well known to the black community as unfriendly. There' s historic hostility. For Hispanics, it represented first-generation students coming from the Valley to a behemoth, with little structural support, while working at two jobs. Their struggle has been immense."

Others on campus are more optimistic, partly because of a wide range of off-campus voices calling for adjustments to a changing population, without challenging academic standards.

In an opinion survey among top Texas businessmen, Murdock found that a large majority wanted the universities to change more quickly. Executives told Murdock they sought more cooperation and internships, and more "multicultural, multilingual and internationally oriented graduates."
Earlier this year, the governor' s office posted a notice near the center of the state capitol, pointing out that Mexico is Texas' biggest trading partner and that Texas accounts for nearly half of all U.S. trade with Mexico. Graduates literate in Spanish and English will help sustain expanding trade with all Latin America. "Businesses are very interested in this," said Murdock.

"People see higher education as a medieval, never changing enterprise," Uri Treisman said. "But one of the strengths of higher education is that it is amazingly responsive to national need...What we have now is a crisis. If we don' t handle it right, it will have devastating social implications...Texas has the potential to figure out how to deal with this in ways that respect the traditional American values of equity."

Carl Irving is a former political and higher education reporter for the San Francisco Examiner.

Photos by Kevin DelaHunty, Black Star for CrossTalk

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