Top percentage guaranteed acceptance; ITR: Does class rank give an unfair advantage?

Intro by Eric Van Allen   

     The process of being admitted into a college is one of the greatest milestones of a student’s senior year. The application process is rigorous and relentless, and students often rush down to the last second to get their desired SAT scores or to write that perfect essay. To validate the achievements of high school students, even before the standardized tests and finals, the Texas House Bill 588 was passed.

     House Bill 588 allows students in the top ten percent of their respective high school classes to gain automatic admission into any state-funded public school, including many heavily attended universities like the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. The top ten percent is determined by class rankings derived from a student’s GPA. While students were guaranteed admissions, they were not guaranteed any scholarships; they still had to find their own means to pay for their time spent at college.

     Supporters of this bill say it helps to create more geological diversity in public schools, and allows students from smaller schools with fewer opportunities to still gain admission to larger universities. Further rationale maintained that there should be a reward for the hard work required to stay in the top ten percent for all four years of high school.

     However, there are also those who do not like the idea of students gaining automatic admission based solely on their class ranking. Dissenters say that there are students with many good credentials, like extracurricular activities and high test scores, who are being wait listed or declined because schools are accepting too many students based on House Bill 588. School records from UT Austin show that 81 percent of its 2008 freshman class gained admission due to the top ten percent rule. UT Austin itself was instrumental in changing the rule so that they could put a limit on those accepted by this method in 2009, at up to 75 percent of entering in-state freshmen.

     Though academic excellence should weigh in heavily, there isn’t enough room in the public school universities to accept all their applicants. Should automatic admission for students in the top ten percent be required, or would it be better to limit or remove the law? Two of our own staff reporters weigh in their own opinion on the matter. Read on about this academic debate, In The Ring…


In the corner on the right…Beth Rozacky

     With a new crop of seniors heading off to colleges across the map, we find ourselves confronted with an annual problem. Some students are upset or angry about not getting into the universities they wanted. The infamous “top ten percent” rule and, more recently the “top eight percent” rule, have been cited as the root of the problem for a handful of seniors. These unloved sorting systems are responsible for ranking students based on GPA. Under Texas House Bill 588, passed in 1997, public Texas colleges must admit student who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school. Most Texas public schools will automatically admit those who meet the “top ten” requirement. The University of Texas at Austin had to recently up the requirements to the current “top eight” level because of a huge influx of in-state attendees. Public colleges around Texas have seen similar pressures but have managed, so far, to keep the automatic admission requirement at ten percent. There are plenty of students who find this system of automatic admission “unfair” or “unnecessarily competitive.” The ranking system here at Cedar Park exemplifies this intensely competitive affair; some might say excessively so. Class rank has become a cutthroat affair, due largely in part to the top ten rule. This competition, while sometimes frightening to weaker hearts, has the potential to be a good thing for top students.

     The top ten percent rule is designed to highlight the students who have achieved scholarly standing throughout their high school careers. Those who perform the best academically usually end up at the top of the class. If you bust your butt for four years, I believe you should be rewarded for your commitment to academic excellence. I can see how this rule is frustrating and equally angering to those on the cusp of the top ten. These are great students who have worked diligently to become highly proficient in their various studies and interest. Top ten rule aside, these students will shine in any college application in and outside of Texas. While the ruling of House Bill 588 guarantees automatic admission to “top tenners”, it doesn’t turn away those outside of that narrow realm. High standardized test scores and school involvement are reflected beyond GPA and class rank. Truly stellar students and young adults will be able to gain entry to even the most prestigious school. However in relation to a crushing majority of students, this system accurately reflects and rewards their high school achievements. Even if those below the top ten percent mark go unranked, or the ranking system is dissolved completely, the best students will remain the best. Lack of a ranking system will not give a boost to students who are simply not the strongest academically. In this way, cries that the top ten percent rule unfairly advantages some students above others, is almost absurd. Advantages in the application process come through in the true talents of applicants, not through a number on a ranking sheet.

     Those who do perform well scholastically look great on college applications, and not just to in-state schools. The colleges I’ll be applying to are spread across the map but have sought me out because of my grades, SAT scores and yes, class rank. However these weren’t the deciding factors up for consideration. In addition to academic pursuits, colleges look at school involvement in clubs and activities. Heavy involvement, time and effort investments in these extra-curricular pursuits can take time from academics. This is something colleges understand very well and is the reason why they look at more than grades and the number of AP classes you took last semester.

      Ranking competition has played a large role in my own high school experience. It has pushed me to fly at higher academic altitudes than I could have ever dreamed of reaching myself. It has put students, like myself, in direct competition with some of the brightest minds in our school and forced all of us to be better. Those who worked the hardest were rewarded with a high rank as validation for their drudgery. Some very qualified students may have been shuffled in and out of the top ten percent but that’s the way to goes sometimes, life isn’t as fair as we’d like it to be.

     While some may criticize the selectivity and perceived unfairness of a top ten percent system, it merely does the work that would’ve produced very similar results in some alternate, non-ranked universe. Ranking system or none, top students shine through in any environment, not because they are ranked to do so but because they are truly superior learners. Even without a required ranking system in high schools those who devote themselves to their education will be rewarded, not always with automatic admission to top universities, but with pride and satisfaction in their labor.

In the corner on the left…Amberly Tabor

     In 1997 the Texas Legislature passed Texas House Bill 588 which guarantees admission into state-funded universities for students that graduate in the top ten percent of their class.  Supporters of the bill state that this guarantee provides ethnic and geographic diversity in the public universities.  They also believe that these students perform better in college than their counterparts.  Unfortunately, the problems with this bill are more prevalent than the advantages.

     The first problem with the bill is that it keeps exceptional students from getting into the school of their choice.  Students with high SAT/ACT scores, along with leadership and extracurricular experience are kept out of the larger universities, such as The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.  In 2008, 81 percent of freshmen at UT Austin were admitted under the rule.  This year, UT Austin had to fill 89 percent of their open slots with the top ten percent students. 

     UT Austin administrators have attempted for years to cap the number of students who are automatically accepted at the institution, and finally, in May 2009, the Texas legislature allowed UT to trim the number of who are automatically accepted.  This new rule will begin in Fall 2011.  Senator Wentworth, from District 25, is attempting to repeal the House Bill 588 entirely. 

     “The current situation in Texas is that you can have a young man who is an Eagle Scout, who’s president of his student council and captain of his football team. But because he’s in the top 12 percent, he’s not automatically admitted,” Wentworth said when interviewed for CBS News. “But somebody else who’s in the top ten percent, who didn’t even take the recommended curriculum for college work, who took the minimum curriculum, automatically goes to the University of Texas at Austin — and that’s not fair.”

     Cedar Park High School is one of the most competitive schools in the area. The fact that there is such a small difference in GPA from the top ten percent to the top eleven, or even fifteen, is even more proof that this plan is more hurtful than helpful. The competitiveness is forcing students to worry more about their grades than their overall experience in high school. While it is important to maintain a high GPA, it is even more important to take part in many activities and take time to think about what you want to do in life. The majority of the students at Cedar Park High School deserve to go to state schools such as UT Austin. It is ridiculous that generally only the top ten percent get in. The current UT President, William Powers agrees.

     “We’ve lost control of our entering class because we don’t have any discretion on the admissions,” Powers said at a legislative preview meeting hosted by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. Powers stated that while the university supports some form of automatic admission based on high school grades, they would prefer to modify the existing law so that other students who aren’t in the top ten percent still have a chance to attend the school.

     Last year, Highland Park High School in Dallas stopped ranking students who were not in the top 10 percent.  In Austin, Westlake High School followed with the same idea. 

     “We have students with an A average in the third quartile of their class, [and] we have anecdotal evidence of athletes who could have gotten full scholarships but were denied because of their class rank,” Linda Rawlings, Westlake Principal, said. “At a school like Westlake, where all our kids are very high achieving, we’ve found that it often does more harm than good.”

     Cedar Park has the option to follow Westlake’s lead as state law only requires public schools to rank students in the top ten percent of their graduating class by numeric order. This would reduce the stress put on students to maintain such an incredibly high GPA, and give them the option to take unweighted classes.

     Students at Cedar Park High School would be more successful in getting in to state colleges if CPHS would only rank the top ten percent, and leave the rest of the class unranked. It turns out that when the State legislature passed the Texas House Bill 588, it did more harm than good. While the students who earn their place in the top ten percent deserve it, the rest remain scrambling for a spot in a good school. The fact that someone who is not in the top ten percent can earn a full ride to a smaller state school, but can’t even get in to UT Austin, their hometown university, illustrates that sad truth.