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Bill to guarantee top percentile students university admission

Virginia State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple presented a bill to the General Assembly on Jan. 8 that would guarantee college admission to the top 5 percent of graduating Virginia high school students.

Whipple's bill is modeled after the "Top 10 Percent Law" passed in Texas in 1997. The proposed bill provides that "any student who is a citizen of Virginia, and graduates from an accredited public school in the Commonwealth in the top 5 percent of his graduating class, must be admitted to any public institution of higher education" in Virginia.

After reading about the Texas program, which guarantees admission for Texas high school students who rank in the top 10 percent of their graduating class, Whipple looked into a similar program for the state of Virginia.

Virginia's current secondary education system is "quite punitive," and students should be rewarded for academic excellence, Whipple said.

"We need something that says if you work hard and graduate in the top 5 percent of your class, you can go to a college in Virginia," Whipple said. "It would also be good for kids in some of the rural schools -- raise their sights, help them to go to something beyond a community college."

Due to logistical problems and concerns from University lobbyists, the bill is still in the works and will face amendments.

A substitute bill is likely to be proposed tomorrow morning.

"No one college in Virginia could accept all 5 percent," Whipple said. "I do expect the bill to be amended -- to put a limit on the number of slots that might be available under this program. Otherwise, it could take up the whole entering class at U.Va."

John P. Ackerly III, rector of the Board of Visitors, said the proposed legislation would not benefit the University.

"The legislation is too rigid," Ackerly said. "The University looks at the [overall] quality of an applicant's transcript," not just class rank.

According to Whipple, Texas legislators passed the top 10 percent law with the intent of increasing diversity by admitting more minority students to their state schools.

Although the primary goal of the legislation is to reward academic excellence, increasing student diversity merely would be a side benefit of the program, Whipple said.

Karen Holt, director of the University's Office of Equal Opportunity, expressed qualms about the implementation of a percentage plan.

"Hoping to achieve diversity from the use of a percentage plan relies on segregated high schools, predominately minority high schools," Holt said. "Because there are high schools that are predominately Hispanic and black in Texas, using the 10 percent plan has really helped them to achieve diversity. I don't know if that would be the case in Virginia."

A statement that will include the University's official stance on the bill will be released later this week, Dean of Admissions John A. Blackburn said.