In the past year the College of Charleston has come under fire regarding its diversity ratios. Diversity pertaining not only to race, as most initially think, but to geographic diversity as well. State and local leaders have criticized The College for not enrolling enough students from the Lowcountry and instead favoring higher achieving and higher tuition paying out-of-state students. There has been additional ridicule regarding the disparate ratios of students considered a minority compared to those classified as white on campus.
Last week, as a solution to these issues, president Glenn McConnell proposed launching a pilot program, modeled after one currently implemented in Texas, where in-state high school seniors are automatically granted admission to College of Charleston if they are in the top ten percent of their graduating high school class.
The program would initially only include Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties, and could potentially encompass two or three rural Lowcountry counties as well. The main goal of the program would be to increase The College’s diversity.
Presently, 14 percent of the undergraduate student body is considered a minority while 82 percent is classified as white. Additionally, data reported by the Commission on Higher Education for the state of South Carolina, shows enrollment for the Fall 2013 semester consisted of 58.56 percent of students from South Carolina and 44.44 percent from out of state (6,142 SC, 4,346 Non-SC/10,488 enrolled in total). Data collected on the composition of incoming freshman based on geo-origin, demonstrates a split that is even closer to a 50/50 ratio over the past five enrollment years.
Programs similar to the one McConnell is proposing for Charleston are currently in use in Texas, California, and Florida. Each has experienced varying degrees of success. McConnell said the program he wants to implement here is modeled closely after the Texas plan.
Texas established the first ever percentage program in 1997, California and Florida followed soon after. The 1997 bill was created in Texas State legislature as a means to avoid stipulations from the Hopwood v. Texas case, which banned the use of affirmative action. It is called the Texas House Bill 588, however, it is more commonly referred to as the Top Ten Percent Rule.
The law guarantees automatic admission into state-funded universities to all Texas high school students who graduate in the top ten percent of their class. At Texas A&M University, freshman applicants qualify for the Top Ten Percent Rule if they attend a recognized public or private high school in Texas and rank in the top ten percent of their class on or before the application deadline.
Since the program’s implementation 17 years ago, there have been countless controversies and opposing opinions to the Top Ten Percent Rule. Many say the law keeps students who are not in the top ten percent but who have other credentials such as high SAT scores or leadership and other extracurricular activities out of the flagship schools such as Texas A&M and UT Austin.
Last week president McConnell told The Post and Courier, that he wants to remove SAT scores from the College’s admission equation. “I personally think it would be a good plan to try,” he said. “I don’t see it diluting standards a bit. I believe it will enhance diversity and bring more high-achieving students to the college.”
Interim provost, Brian McGee, also told The Post and Courier that he believes high school GPA is the best predictor of collegiate success, saying, “these are students who will do very well.”
While the new rule, if implemented at the College, would bring greater amounts of Lowcountry students to the campus, it could conversely also create an even larger issue: too many in-state students enrolled under the rule, as it did at UT Austin.
In 2008, 81 percent of UT Austin’s freshman class was enrolled under the Top Ten Percent Rule. The school said the law had come to account for too many of its entering students. Former UT president Larry Faulkner advocated for capping the number of top ten percent students for each year at one half of its freshman class. Others suggested reducing the number to a top seven percent rule. A decision was reached in 2009 allowing UT Austin to trim the number of students accepted under the program to 75 percent of the incoming in state freshman. The new format was implemented with the Fall 2011 entering class. The top one percent, 2 percent and so forth were accepted until the cap was reached.
One of the main goals of the Top Ten Percent Rule is to increase campus diversity by allowing students admission to colleges they may not have normally received acceptance. In 2011, a study called Jockeying for Position: Strategic High School Choice Under Texas’ Top Ten Percent Plan was conducted by Julie Berry Cullen, who is currently a professor of Economics at the University of California San Diego. The study found that the law conversely created an incentive for students to transfer to lower achieving high schools in order to graduate in the schools top ten percent and thus gain admission to a Texas State College. It also found that around one fourth of students try to increase their chances of being in the top ten percent of a graduating high school class by enrolling in a different high school than the one they were originally assigned to attend. This creates another issue as these transfers are displacing the minority students who would have been in the top ten percent of those schools.
With this being said, does the top ten percent rule actually do anything to admit a more diverse incoming class to any Texas State university? Would it do the same at the College of Charleston?
President of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP, Dot Scott, said she was elated when she heard about McConnell’s plan for implementing a Top Ten Percent Rule at the College. “Now that’s walking the talk,” she remarked. Scott also explained that she believes “potential and opportunity are the best things you can give to these kids.” She’s hopeful The College will pass the rule soon and is very excited about what it can do for the College.