Preston’s Political Point: Abbott Shouldn’t Bother With College Rankings


Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/TNS

Supporters of the University of Texas demonstrate at the Homer Thornberry Judicial Building during a hearing in Austin on Nov. 13, 2013. Abigail Fisher, a white high school graduate, was turned down by UT. She claimed she lost her spot because of an unconstitutional use of race as a factor.

Governor Greg Abbott, according to The Dallas Morning News, expressed his want for Texas to have a presence among the top 10 public universities in the United States.

Currently, five of the 10 are located in California, two are in Virginia, and the remainder located in Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina. The highest-ranking public institution in Texas is The University of Texas at Austin, which ranks 17 in the nation.

However, the problem is that the institution ranking these colleges, U.S. News & World Report, uses an unfair system to rate them. According to their website, 22.5 percent of a school’s total score is based on how well they rank with high school counselors and administrators.

Counselors, if they are actually doing their job, are not concerned with how some colleges compare to each other. In reality, they are helping teenagers, who are racking their brains deciding which school they want to attend, figure out the proper avenues to get there. They are not trained to rank universities all over the country, nor evaluate the correlation between alumni donations and alumni satisfaction.

Texas, being the second largest state in the union, and having a very socioeconomically diverse population, is at a disadvantage. In addition, the state requires public institutions to admit students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class, with the exception of University of Texas at Austin, which has a varying percentage based on the size of the graduating class that year. The combination of these two factors makes for a horrible outcome.

In addition to what counselors think, another 22.5 percent of the ranking is based on the school’s 6-year graduation rate. This factor definitely affects the state’s premiere universities, because students from underperforming high schools are able to attend Texas A&M and UT automatically but are not prepared for the workload those schools entail.

In essence, Texas would fare better against other states in rankings if it were to oust its top 10 percent rule and prevent students in underperforming areas from automatically attending the state’s best universities.

If Abbott was serious about placing Texas among the top 10 nationally-recognized universities, he would begin by changing the top 10 percent rule, and make universities admit students in a more competitive manner.

In an Abbott-esque reality, admission would be based on standardized SAT or ACT tests, and not on the 10 percenters. Colleges would put a higher value on students who did not place in the top 10 percent of their high schools, but attended the high schools that ranked higher in the state.

For example, Student X attends Apples High School, a school that rates Exemplary. Student X ranks 310 of 840 students and scores a 31 on their ACT. Student Y attends Oranges High School, an underperforming school. Student Y ranks 3 of 600 students but scores a 23 on their ACT. UT is required by law to admit student Y. By the same token, because student X ranks in the middle of the second quartile, UT may pass on offering admission to a student who has displayed the ability to perform better than students who attend Oranges High School.

Texas should not remove the top 10 percent rule, though. Abbott’s real educational focus should be on reforming high school education, so that the areas that are underserved aren’t also labeled as underperforming. In turn, this may pay off by better preparing students for college, and ultimately putting a Texas university among the top 10 in the nation.