New program helps students get ready for college

By James L. Hill, University of Texas at Austin
Austin American-Statesman
Thursday, June 19, 2003

As a University of Texas at Austin vice president who has worked very closely with House Bill 588 (top 10 percent law) since its inception in 1997, I must disagree with the American-Statesman article "10 percent law not doing the job at UT-Austin" (May 25).

The Top 10 Percent Law is not the perfect solution to all admissions challenges in higher education, but the law is working at UT-Austin. And the university is taking additional steps, in concert with the law, to ensure that our student body fully represents the population of Texas.

It's no secret that there are educational challenges in the inner-city schools across our nation. Texas is no exception. But at UT, we have rolled up our sleeves and have helped strengthen the opportunities available to students in those schools. As a result, those students are better prepared for college — and they are succeeding, both here at UT and at other universities.

The passage of HB588 inspired us at UT-Austin to design the Texas Longhorn PREP (Partners Responding to an Educational Priority) program. UT's Longhorn PREP program is the result of collaborative efforts of the Division of Rhetoric and Composition at UT and the Office of School Relations. Texas Longhorn PREP is helping high school teachers work with their students to develop college-level skills in preparation for the university academic environment by focusing on the development of pre-collegiate English skills within the high school curriculum. The program is being offered to junior and senior top 10 percent high school students in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Dallas and southern Dallas County. Four of these school districts are among the top eight largest schools districts in the state, and each one has a large minority enrollment.

The Top 10 Percent Law, with support from the Texas Longhorn PREP program and other K-12 initiatives, is enabling the university to enroll more students who both perform well academically and represent the growing minority populations of our state. The fall semester 2003 incoming freshman class at UT-Austin, for example, will have the highest academic qualifications in the university's history. The average high-school class rank is 91st percentile for the university's incoming freshmen compared with 87th in 2002 and 86th in 2001. The average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score for fall semester 2003 freshmen is 1239, up from 1228 this academic year and from 1223 in 2001.

Our 2003-04 admissions report shows that 16.6 percent of the next freshman class will be Hispanic, an increase from the 14.3 percent during the 2002 fall semester. In 1996, the year before a federal court order in the Hopwood case prohibited affirmative action in admissions, Hispanics were 14.5 percent of the freshman class population. The first post-Hopwood class in 1997 had a 12.6 percent Hispanic population.

The report also indicates that African American students will account for 3.9 percent of the university's next freshman class, an increase from 3.4 from the fall 2002 freshman class. The first post-Hopwood class was 2.7 percent.

This fall, 69 percent of the freshmen class admitted to UT-Austin will be top 10 percent students, and many of them will come from those underrepresented inner city high schools in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Beaumont.

It is imperative for public school educators and university faculty to work collaboratively to strengthen students' academic skills in preparation for entry into a college or university of their choice. The Top 10 Percent Law is a useful tool in enabling the classrooms of our state universities to reflect our population — a worthy goal for UT and for Texas.

Hill is vice president for community and school relations at UT-Austin.