AUSTIN, Texas—Effective ways to include race as a factor in selecting applicants for admission are being evaluated by administrators at The University of Texas at Austin, which plans to implement a revised admissions process by fall 2004.
Dr. Bruce Walker, vice provost and director of admissions at the university, said he and Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson have been working with other university officials for several weeks to develop an admissions process that includes race as a factor. Their plan must undergo reviews by President Larry R. Faulkner, as well as by the University of Texas System’s legal counsel before a final version is submitted to the Board of Regents for its consideration and approval.
“Our mission is to serve the entire state of Texas, and right now we have certain segments of the population that, by all indicators, are underserved,” said Ekland-Olson. “We are looking for all kinds of ways to improve on that and this gives us one more tool to use.”
The fall 2002 freshman class at The University of Texas at Austin included 13.6 percent Hispanics and 3.4 percent African American students. In comparison, thestatewide demographic figures show Hispanics are 32 percent of the state populationand African Americans are about 11 percent.
Walker said all 15 components in The University of Texas System are required to have plans reviewed by the system prior to implementation of race as a factorin the admissions process. He said the university’s “holistic” reviewof each applicant takes many factors into consideration in addition to academicstrength.
“A comprehensive college education depends on a robust exchange of ideas, exposure to differing cultures, preparing for the challenges of an increasingly diverse workforce and acquiring competencies required of future leaders,” said Walker. “The university handles a very large number of applications and therefore must select from among this highly qualified pool only the number of students it can accommodate. In addition to an assessment of the academic strength of an applicant’s record, admission decisions result from an individualized, holistic review of each applicant. The review takes into consideration the many ways the academically qualified individual might contribute and benefit from, the rich, diverse and challenging educational environment of the university.”
Walker said the Board of Regents’ decision calling for the inclusion of race in the admissions process followed a decision in June by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in its admissions process. The court, however, made it clear that race should be only one of several factors used in choosing students for admission.
Walker said The University of Texas at Austin had used race as a factor in its admission process until 1996, when the Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling in the “Hopwood” case abruptly ended the use of race considerations. He said the Hopwood decision caused the university to make major changes in its admission process, such as adding file review to actually read the application files and essays submitted by applicants. Other considerations include leadership, honors, awards, community service and work experience.
The Hopwood ruling and a subsequent attorney general’s ruling prohibiting Texas colleges and universities from considering race in the admissions process had placed the state’s higher education institutions in a competitive disadvantage in trying to recruit qualified minority students because other states were not bound by the court order. Ekland-Olson said the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Michigan case and a recent decision by the Board of Regents to allow the use of race as a factor in the admissions process finally “levels the playing field with the rest of the country.”
“At the undergraduate level, what we are looking at are ways that we can add to the kinds of criteria that we are already using in conjunction with the top 10 percent law to produce the best class that we can that represents the people in Texas whom we need to serve,” Ekland-Olson said.
For more information contact: Dr. Bruce Walker, Office of Admissions, 512-475-7326, or Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.