A Policy Discourse Analysis of Texas' Top Ten Percent Law
Previous policy analysis of the Top Ten Percent Plan (TTPP) has focused on the outcomes of the policy (e.g., Card & Krueger, 2005; Kain & O'Brien, 2004; Long, 2004), answering questions such as whether the TTPP led to increased or decreased access for particular groups. Absent from the literature is an analysis of the policy-change process and the way this change process might contribute to producing a particular cultural reality, and how it might exclude people based on race and gender categories (Iverson, 2005; Marshall, 1999).
This study was designed to enhance understanding of the college admission policy-change process that led to the creation of the TTPP in 1997, a policy that was initially intended to serve as a race-neutral alternative to affirmative action. This study moves away from a positivist line of policy analysis which is primarily focused on outcomes and examines the policy through a critical lens. Policy discourse analysis was the methodology used for this study and poststructuralism was the theoretical lens applied to investigate the following questions: • What are the predominant images of merit and student deservedness in the TTPP? • What discourses are employed to shape these images? • How does the TTPP construct the student deserving of college admission? • What does the language in these policies tell us about what those in power value in student preparedness? How is race evoked by the silences or absences found in the discourse surrounding the TTPP?
In this study, I utilized Kezar's (2011b) poststructural analytic method of revelation, deconstruction and reconstruction to examine the discourses and interpret the data. Doing so revealed that HB 588 was a reconstruction of traditional admission evaluation based primarily on the evaluation of merit through SAT/ACT test scores to a more narrowly defined evaluation of class rank. The TTPP created a new culture of student deservedness by opening the doors to underrepresented students across the state who reached the elite top 10% of their graduating class. By discursively reframing the student deserving of automatic college admission, the legislation has created a pipeline for those who deserve to go to Texas' two flagships, and those who need to consider a local regional institution or community college. While the TTPP provided a pathway for elite students in the state of Texas, it does not address the majority of the state's college going population and educational access. Practitioners, institutional leaders, and policy makers should not grow complacent. Higher education stakeholders should continue to work toward more equitable standards to produce more equitable outcomes.