Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Could a Top-10 Percent Plan Work in New York City?

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Hibiscus (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kerstin Gentsch, Sarah Truelsch and Andrew Wallace, City University of New York
In the interest of balancing diversity and selectivity in a time of declining support for race-based affirmative action, public college systems in several states, including Texas, California, and Florida have adopted top percent plans that guarantee admission to the top ten (or near) percent of graduates from each high school in a given recruitment area. By relying on relatively high levels of residential segregation reflected in large numbers of majority-minority high schools, these plans aim to increase minority college enrollment. Research findings on the effects of these plans are mixed.

New York City’s public colleges also face the challenge of enrolling a student body that is ethnically diverse and representative of the local population under selective admissions standards. Recent declines in the admission rates of black and Hispanic applicants have attracted scrutiny to the admission process, which currently evaluates applicants based on high school grades, course credits, and SAT scores alone. This analysis investigates whether a top-10 percent admissions plan would increase the enrollment of under-represented minorities above current levels in the most selective campuses at the City University of New York (CUNY).

As the nation’s largest urban public college system, CUNY presents an interesting case for studying the feasibility of a top-10 percent plan. CUNY’s 18 campuses enroll nearly 240,000 undergraduates and are all located within New York City’s five boroughs. The University enjoys a uniquely close relationship with the New York City Department of Education (DOE): 75 percent of all CUNY freshmen are graduates of the DOE’s schools (although they have no admissions preferences or tuition breaks above other applicants from New York State), and nearly 60 percent of all college-going graduates of the DOE enroll at CUNY. The centralized CUNY application allows applicants to list up to six colleges on one form, with no additional cost per college.

To simulate the alternative admissions policy, we use data available through The New York City Partnership for College Readiness and Success to rank the graduates of each DOE high school by GPA and identify the top ten percent. We then compare the demographic characteristics and academic credentials of these students to those of actual admitted applicants. The data allow us to simulate different scenarios of student application patterns and enrollment decisions. This is important because changing an admissions plan alone will not necessarily lead to a change in the composition of the entering class; students’ decisions of whether to apply and whether to enroll once admitted will have a substantial impact. We also explore alternative specifications of the plan based on the high school and colleges within each borough, rather than citywide.