Study Snapshot: Uniform Admissions, Unequal Access: Did the Top 10% Plan Increase Access to Selective Flagship Institutions

For Immediate Release: May 22, 2019

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin,
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

Study Snapshot: Uniform Admissions, Unequal Access: Did the Top 10% Plan Increase Access to Selective Flagship Institutions

Study: "Uniform Admissions, Unequal Access: Did the Top 10% Plan Increase Access to Selective Flagship Institutions"
Authors: Kalena E. Cortes (Texas A&M University), Daniel Klasik (George Washington University)

This study was presented at the AERA 2019 Annual Meeting, April 5-9, Toronto, Canada. (Session: Percent Plans, Recruiting, and Distributional Outcomes: New Perspectives on Student Access and Stratification.) A copy of the working paper is available to journalists upon request from the AERA communications team.

Main Finding:

  • Although the Top 10 Percent Plan admissions policy in Texas—which was introduced after the state banned race-conscious affirmative action—had the potential to increase access to the state’s two flagship institutions for students from Texas high schools without a tradition of regularly sending students to those universities, it has done little since it was implemented in 1998 to expand access for students from those high schools.


  • For their study, the authors used 20 years’ worth of administrative data from the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, which lists the high schools that sent students to each institution, and merged it with U.S. Department of Education secondary school data to study changes in enrollment for students from different Texas high schools. They found little evidence that the Texas Top 10 Percent Plan has resulted in meaningful long-term changes in the population of high schools that send students to the two institutions.
  • The Top 10 Percent Plan, implemented in 1998 as an alternative to race-conscious affirmative action, guarantees all Texas students’ admission to any four-year public institution of their choice provided they graduate in the top 10 percent of their senior high school class. This admissions policy sought to exploit the existing racial and ethnic segregation between high schools in the state to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of students admitted to four-year public universities without explicitly using a student’s race and ethnicity in the admissions decision.
  • The authors noted that although the Top 10 Percent Plan has had limited success in generating racial and ethnic diversity, some have claimed that it instead had the benefit of diversifying the pool of high schools—i.e., affluent vs. poor, urban vs. rural, etc.—that send students to the two selective flagship institutions in Texas. If true, this would suggest that the admissions policy produces benefits distinct from the racial and ethnic diversity goal.
  • The authors’ study is the first to look at this topic beyond just a few years of post-policy implementation data. They examined data from 1996 through 2016—spanning from two years prior and 18 years after the policy was introduced—to look for evidence of increased access to the flagship universities by all high schools in Texas.
  • The authors found little change over time in the composition of high schools that almost always sent students to either flagship each year, those that never sent students, and those who fell in the middle of those two extremes (e.g., occasionally sending high schools).
  • “We found that high schools were just as likely to send students to the flagships after the policy as they were before,” said study coauthor Daniel Klasik, an assistant professor of higher education administration at George Washington University. “This is true whether we consider just the first five years of the Top 10 Percent Plan or our entire 18 years of post-policy data.”
  • According to the authors, of 1,723 public high schools in Texas, 689 (40.0 percent) were counted as “always sending” schools prior to the percentage plan, 259 (15.0 percent) were “occasionally sending” schools, and 775 (45 percent) were “never sending” schools.
  • “While it is certainly true that individual high schools sent students to the flagships for the first time after the percent plan began, those results were fleeting,” said Kalena E. Cortes, an associate professor of public policy at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. “Virtually no school that had not sent students to those campuses in the two years prior to the plan established a pattern of sending students afterward.”
  • The authors found that those few schools that were new senders of students to flagship campuses were less racially diverse than other schools without a history of sending students to those universities. 
  • “Nearly 20 years after the launch of the Top 10 Percent Plan, the representation of traditional, always-sending, feeder high schools on the flagship campuses continues to dwarf the population of students from other high schools,” said Cortes.
  • Of the three groups of high schools, the authors reported that always-sending schools had the fewest free-lunch eligible students (26 percent), the largest grade 12 enrollment (an average of 228 students), the highest average SAT scores (26 percent in the top quartile), and are also the closest to both the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University (just under 180 miles on average to both).
  • Of the three groups of high schools, never-sending schools have the highest percentage of free-lunch eligible students (34 percent), the smallest grade 12 enrollment (an average of 25 students), the lowest SAT scores (7 percent in the top quartile), and are the farthest from each of the flagship campuses (212 miles from the University of Texas at Austin, and 221 miles to Texas A&M University).
  • The authors also found that high schools designated for special recruitment efforts under the Century program at Texas A&M University and the Longhorn program at the University of Texas at Austin had the greatest increase in likelihood of sending student to those institutions after the percent plan went into effect.
  • “The Top 10 Percent Plan still has the potential to open access to the Texas flagships for students from all Texas high schools, but there are many places where students may face challenges  taking advantage of this opportunity,” said Klasik. “The main work of increasing different types of diversity at the flagships likely hinges on providing additional support for students at those schools and encouraging those to apply who otherwise might not.”

To talk to the study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, (202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell); Collin Boylin, Communications Associate,, (202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell).

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