Texas A&M shows that affirmative action isn't necessary

While the University of Texas awaits a Supreme Court ruling on its affirmative action policies, Texas A&M is quietly increasing its diversity by focusing on low-income scholarships and minority recruitment programs instead.

Texas’ two largest universities, Texas A&M and UT Austin, are pushing toward the same goal: to boost the numbers of minority students on campus. But each is seeing varying degrees of success, The Texas Tribune reports, partly because of their approaches on the issue.

This revelation is timely, according to Breitbart, as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to release in the next week or so its decision on Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that has been tossed around the U.S. Court of Appeals and is returning to the Supreme Court after its first hearing in December 2015, when a white student was denied admission to UT because the university gave priority to students of minority races over her.

UT Austin openly embraces affirmative action. Since 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the University of Michigan’s practice of using race as a factor in the college admissions process in the case Grutter v. Bollinger, UT Austin has fully espoused affirmative action as an integral part of its attempt to increase minority diversity on its campus.

Not so with Texas A&M, which has its historical roots in the conservative, rural Texas tradition, and has a student population composed primarily of white students. When affirmative action became available to Texas colleges in 2003, A&M declined to use it, opting instead to use Texas’ Top 10 Percent Rule and other programs to attract minority high school graduates.

And since 2003, A&M has more than doubled its enrollment of black and Hispanic students from 10.8 percent to 23.1 percent, compared to UT Austin’s considerably smaller 7.3 percent jump in the same time frame.

A&M administrators credit this success to the university’s proactive minority outreach programs and low-income scholarships, which the university awards based on individual student merit. Their success, College Station news outlet KBTX says, is through “less conventional, more hands-on methods” of recruitment.

The university’s outreach programs have aggressively pursued minority students in poor or underachieving high schools. In areas like east Dallas, where the student population is mostly black or Hispanic, A&M recruiters spend most of their time talking to students and college advisors to build relationships at the school.

“Word of mouth is pretty powerful,” President Young said of their recruitment program.

Recruiters assigned to such schools work to expand interest in the university, like personally explaining the financial aid process or offering to give students a tour of A&M’s College Station campus.

“Everyone wanted to attend A&M,” college adviser Thelma Gonzalez said of W.W. Samuell High School’s senior class last fall. Students responded positively to the recruiters’ continued and friendly presence on campus, she explained, especially since 90 percent of W.W. Samuell students receive some form of government assistance.

Several W.W. Samuell students will be attending A&M the coming semester, including Jose Lopez, who nearly decided on attending UT Austin but changed to A&M after he noticed UT Austin recruiters rarely came to his high school.

In addition to its proactive outreach recruiting, A&M reconstructed its financial aid process to offer more scholarships to potential students, including a new scholarship available for low-income, first-generation students. The university also began to offer additional funds to Hispanic and black students through the National Hispanic Scholars and National Achievement Scholarships organizations.

In a move to give poorer students time to find ways to pay for tuition, A&M sent out financial aid award letters earlier in the year, and it expanded its Century Scholars Program, which was originally available to only 40 schools in Houston and Dallas but now is offered to more than 1,000 across Texas.

Even so, A&M credits their jump in diversity mostly to Texas’ Top 10 Percent Rule, which the university has used to its great advantage.

After a 1996 ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed affirmative action unconstitutional, a decision which was later overturned with Grutter v. Bollinger, Texas colleges began to use a Top 10 Percent Rule, which allows automatic admission for the top 10 percent of high school students into public colleges.

This policy allowed A&M to reach a more diverse range of students because the university could automatically admit students from poor or underperforming high schools, which have historically had high concentrations of minorities.

Then-A&M President Robert Gates expressed his approval of the university’s increasing diversity, saying that “all students here [at A&M] have been admitted on personal merit.”

Administrators at UT Austin, however, have complained that the Top 10 Percent Rule floods the university with too many eligible students, which restricts the Austin university’s ability to build its student body to its liking, The Texas Tribune explains.

Current A&M President Michael Young criticized those opposed to the Rule, saying that those colleges are pushing away qualified students simply because they are automatically admitted.

A&M administrators say they still have work to do to keep increasing A&M’s diversity on campus, but they will continue to do so without using affirmative action to give advantages to certain races over others.

The upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas could slow A&M’s progress on diversity, however. The Court could rule against affirmative action, striking it down in Texas, resulting in higher competition for the high-performing minority students A&M has had success recruiting so far.

Even so, A&M believes their success has proven that diversity can increase without affirmative action, and if the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action in Texas, more universities would have the chance to follow in A&M’s footsteps and promote diversity through other proven pathways.

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