Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2
(July 2003)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Contributing to the Practice of Democracy
Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values
Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements
Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights of the LGBT Community
Creating Border Crossings: Dickinson College at Home and Abroad
Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek
The Accountability Side of Diversity
Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?
Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People
Multimedia, Books and Conferences
The E Pluribus Unum Project

Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?

In its briefs to the Supreme Court in the University of Michigan affirmative action lawsuits (Gratz v. Bollinger; Grutter v. Bollinger), the current administration argued that diversity in higher education was a laudable goal, but should be achieved via race-neutral means. the administration pointed to “race-neutral” percent plans that several states have adopted as an alternative to race-conscious admissions. President Bush maintains that the percent plans implemented in Texas, Florida, and California have been successful at diversifying college campuses without considering race as a factor in admissions. The question remains: How successful are these programs? And do they yield the same or similar results as race-conscious admissions policies?

New admissions policies have slightly increased applications and admissions from minorities, but fewer African-American, Hispanic, and Native American applicants are admitted to the most selective campuses--Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Three reports issued recently conclude that percentage plans are largely unsuccessful and do not yield diverse student bodies comparable to the diversity achieved using race-conscious admissions. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued Beyond Percentage Plans: The Challenge of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in January, a staff report updating the Commission’s earlier assessment of percent plans in California, Florida, and Texas.
The Harvard Civil Rights Project, a collaborative of lawyers and educators dedicated to civil rights research, produced two reports in February. One report, Appearance and Reality in the Sunshine State: The Talented 20 Program in Florida examined the history, implementation, and effects of Florida’s percent program. A second report, Percent Plans in College Admissions: A Comparative Analysis of Three States’ Experiences, assessed the impact of percent plan policies on maintaining racial/ethnic diversity in California, Florida, and Texas.
Florida’s Talented 20 Program

In November 1999, Governor Jeb Bush signed an executive order eliminating affirmative action in admissions decisions. In place of affirmative action, he instituted the Talented 20 Program. The Talented 20 Program guarantees admission to one of Florida’s 11 public institutions to the top 20 percent of public high school graduates. To gain admission, students must be in the top 20 percent of their class, complete 19 required credit hours, and submit an SAT or ACT score. This program does not guarantee admission to the student’s public institution of choice. In addition, no provisions in the program were made for graduate and professional admissions.

Harvard researchers interviewed and visited several Florida state agencies and university campuses. Their study concludes that the Talented 20 Program is not an effective alternative to race-conscious admissions and is not race-neutral. In fact, the program relies on race-attentive measures, such as financial aid and outreach programs, to enjoy minimal success.
University of California’s

Four Percent Plan
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209 that eliminated affirmative action in public education, employment, and contracting. Governor Gray Davis implemented the Four Percent plan in 1999. The Four Percent plan guaranteed admission to at least one institution in the University of California’s eight-campus system to high school graduates in the top 4 percent of their high school. The program does not guarantee admission to the university of a student’s choice.

Shortly after the ban, institutions began to institute outreach programs to increase the eligibility rates of students from schools that had significant educational disadvantages and schools that produced few college-bound students. Despite significant spending on campus outreach efforts that often targeted racially segregated high schools, campus diversity did not increase. Sharp declines in the proportions of African American, Hispanics, and Native Americans admitted and enrolled into the UC System were evident.

New admissions policies have slightly increased applications and admissions
from minorities, but fewer African-American, Hispanic, and Native American applicants are admitted to the most selective campuses—Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego. In addition, proportionally fewer minorities even bother to apply now as compared to 1995 when the ban took effect.

State of Texas
The Texas legislature instituted “the ten percent plan” (HB 588) after the Fifth Circuit decision Hopwood v. State of Texas effectively eliminated affirmative action in admissions in the state. HB 588 guaranteed high school graduates in the top ten percent of their classes admission to a Texas public college or university of their choice. Eligible students under the 10 percent plan can choose admission to the state’s two flagship institutions—University of Texas, Austin or Texas A&M University—or any of the other Texas public institutions. The ten percent plan does not apply to graduate students.

Although the number of undergraduate minorities applying to the University of Texas-Austin has continued to increase since 1996, the percentage of those admitted has declined, as has the number of those who actually enroll. Both studies report that extensive outreach and recruitment programs are used to bolster the enrollment of underrepresented groups. Texas A&M University has not yet reached the pre-Hopwood proportional percentages of African Americans and Hispanics, despite the use of the ten percent plan. This is particularly salient given the fact that the population of African-American and Hispanic fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds continues to increase.

In addition to concluding that percent plans do not sufficiently improve racial diversity by reaching underrepresented minorities, the three studies illustrate two main points about percent plans. The first point is that the plans are mechanically distinctive, with different pools of eligible students and different guarantees of admission. Whereas, public and private high school students in Texas and California are eligible for participation in the percent plans, only Florida public high schools students are eligible for the Talented 20 plan. While Texas guarantees admission to the two premier flagship institutions in the state (the only schools where selective admissions are used), Florida and California plans only guarantee admission to the state university systems as a whole, not necessarily the flagship institutions.

Secondly, percentage plans alone are insufficient. Moreover, they are aided by other “racially attentive” supplemental recruitment, admissions, and financial aid programs that are by no means race-neutral. These additional programs boost minority representation, but they do not substantially increase their numbers. Thus, racially sensitive efforts are still being used to increase diversity, but they are less effective than affirmative action policies.

Facts About Percent Plans
  • Percent plans alone do not improve diversity by reaching underrepresented groups and do not serve as effective alternatives to affirmative action.
  • Percent plans do not address private colleges and do not apply to graduate and professional schools.
  • Percent plans rely on race-sensitive outreach programs.

Florida’s Talented 20

  • The Talented 20 plan has led to the admission of very few students to the state university system who would not have been admitted under pre-existing, race-neutral standards.
  • The Talented 20 plan provided no guarantee of admission to the two most highly selective campuses in the system, the University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University (FSU).
  • The Talented 20 includes far more White and Asian students than Blacks and Hispanics, the two groups most underrepresented at UF and FSU.
  • The marginal success of the plan relies on race-attentive recruitment, retention, and financial aid policies.

Texas’ Ten Percent

  • Texas A&M University has not achieved the levels of diverse students that it had before affirmative action was eliminated. The ten percent plan is clearly unsuccessful as a viable option to affirmative action at this university.
  • University of Texas, Austin still struggles to admit Black students and utilizes extensive outreach and recruitment programs to maintain campus diversity.

California’s Four Percent Plan

  • The Four Percent plan does not guarantee admission to the two most selective campuses in the UC system, Berkeley and Los Angeles. Proportionally, fewer Black and Latinos are enrolled at the flagship institutions now than in 1995 before Proposition 209 went into effect.
  • Proportionally fewer minorities apply or are enrolled now than in 1995 when affirmative action was eliminated.
Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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