Tuesday’s op-ed in The Daily Californian by Ronald Cruz caught my attention for a variety of reasons, the first being that I just recently graduated from a high school in Texas, and as a member of the top 10 percent. While I wholeheartedly agree with Cruz’s goals of increasing diversity on college campuses, and making college campuses more representative of the overall population, I must emphatically disagree with his assertion that the “10 percent plan is, by far, the most democratic, equal, fair and transparent admissions system of any elite university in the country.” Instead I wish to offer an alternative method, which, in my opinion, is much fairer than drawing an arbitrary cut-off line. That method can be described as affirmative action based on socioeconomic status, and not race.
First, I’d like to address the Ten Percent rule. At the outset it is important to point out that the “Ten Percent” rule is a misnomer as a few years ago, University of Texas, Austin changed the arbitrary 10 percent with an even more arbitrary eight percent. That being said, this past June, I graduated from Pearland High School in Pearland, Texas, well within the top eight percent of my class and was basically guaranteed admission to UT Austin. This method, however, is inherently discriminatory toward small high schools and highly competitive high schools. After my junior year, I was fortunate to be able to participate in Boys State and in the High School Aerospace Scholars program through which I met other rising seniors from all over Texas. Some of those I met had only as few as 11 students in their graduating class. Only 11, meaning not even the valedictorian of that class would be eligible for automatic admission at UT Austin.
Further, schools with such a low enrollment are sometimes not eligible to participate in athletic and academic competitions organized by the University Interscholastic League — which is the most prominent inter-school organization in Texas — and so these students are often denied the ability to show their skills through means other than class rank. In contrast, my high school won the 2010 Football Conference 5A Division 1 — division with the largest schools in the state — state championship in 2010, appeared on the Yahoo! homepage and was acknowledged by our congressman on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for this distinction. It is therefore clear that the Ten Percent rule puts students in smaller schools at a disadvantage over those in large schools.
Another dynamic that needs to be considered is the rigor of different high schools. It is strongly believed in my city that of the two high schools in the city, one is more competitive than the other, and that perhaps neither of these schools is as competitive as some of the schools in neighboring districts. Quite simply, this means that not every top eight percent is created equal. It is entirely possible that a student just outside the eighth percent in his or her high school is infinitely more qualified to attend UT Austin than the valedictorian of another high school. And what if this student just outside the eighth percent is in fact an underrepresented minority? And this arbitrary cut-off line raises a few questions. Is it fair that the student that just barely missed out on the top eight percent has to compete in a much more rigorous process for much more limited number of seats at the university? And why is it eight percent? Why not nine percent or seven percent?
So instead of randomly drawing lines in the sand, I would like to propose a more efficient solution. The underlying problem in inequality is not high school rank or race, but resources. Wealthier students are able to afford expensive classes for SAT and ACT preparation and are able to afford to hire a tutor to get help in a class. And wealthier schools can often present better opportunities to their students. The benefits of wealth are conferred upon the wealthy, not upon members of a race. In this case it is important to ask whether an extremely wealthy and resourceful member of an underrepresented minority group should have an advantage over an impoverished member of the majority? Thus, I believe that while affirmative action has a place in our society, the current system needs to be reformed to actually address the current situation.
Many colleges boast that their admissions processes are need-blind, but I suggest that these processes become need-conscious. That students have achieved to the best of their abilities despite their economic handicap should be considered in the college admissions process. Affirmative action cannot blindly favor students because of their skin color. It needs to look deeper into individual stories, and the story of what conditions under which someone was brought up is much more meaningful than the ethnicity they were born with.
Tejas Dave is a UC Berkeley freshman and graduated from Pearland High School in Pearland, Texas.
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