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Will Reformed Texas Graduation Requirements Limit College Options?


Texas educators are catching up with the fine print in the state’s new omnibus education reform law, and they find themselves chafing over a previously overlooked prospect: Even students who score straight A’s throughout high school might not be eligible for automatic admission to state-run universities.

KUT News reported under new graduation requirements contained in House Bill 5, approved by the Legislature in May, students graduating with the most basic degree, the so-called foundation plan, won’t be counted in a school’s end-of-year class rankings. Under state law, only graduates in the top 10 percent of their classes are automatically admitted to the state’s public universities.

Concerned educators argue that this provision, which takes effect for incoming ninth-graders next fall, also would create a two-track educational system that relegates greater numbers of individuals to a mediocre, second-tier education. 

The new law allows 10th-grade students to choose among three graduation plans, two on the college-ready track, called the distinguished and endorsement plans, and the foundation plan, which is considered the career-ready track. Students who go the foundation route will not be eligible for a Top 10 ranking. Nor will they complete college admission requirements, which usually require four years of English, science, social studies and math.

“We could be sending a signal to some students that they don’t need a rigorous high school education,” said Texas State University President Denise Trauth. “I’ve never said that every young person in Texas needs a four-year degree, but what they have to have is something post-high school that will prepare them for the workforce.”

HB 5’s author, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Killeen Republican, dismissed concerns the law will affect college access.

“The Top 10 Percent has only been available to those top-performing students, anyhow,” Aycock said. If students expect to qualify, he said, “they need to step up and take Algebra II and complete an endorsement and the whole deal.”

Under the law, the so-called "4x4" curriculum, which required students to take four years of English, science, social studies and math, is no longer mandatory. Students in the two college-ready plans will continue to take four years of the four courses, but students in the foundation must take four years of English and only three years of the other core courses.

“Any time high school graduation requirements are watered down… it is a disservice for students in that curriculum,” George Norton, associate vice president for student affairs at UT-San Antonio, said. “They will simply be less prepared regardless of what direction they take in life and in the workplace.”