Percent Plans: How Successful Are
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,
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
New admissions policies have slightly increased applications
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
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
About Percent Plans
- Percent plans alone do not improve diversity
by reaching underrepresented groups and do not
serve as effective alternatives to affirmative
- Percent plans do not address private colleges
and do not apply to graduate and professional
- Percent plans rely on race-sensitive outreach
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
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
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.