Jockeying for Position: Strategic High School Choice Under Texas' Top Ten Percent Plan
Beginning in 1998, all students in the state of Texas who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school classes were guaranteed admission to any in-state public higher education institution, including the flagships. While the goal of this policy is to improve college access for disadvantaged and minority students, the use of a school-specific standard to determine eligibility could have unintended consequences. Students may increase their chances of being in the top ten percent by choosing a high school with lower-achieving peers. Our analysis of students' school transitions between 8th and 10th grade three years before and after the policy change reveals that this incentive influences enrollment choices in the anticipated direction. Among the subset of students with both motive and opportunity for strategic high school choice, as many as 25 percent enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top ten percent. Strategic students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of more competitive magnet schools and, regardless of own race, typically displace minority students from the top ten percent pool. The net effect of strategic behavior is to slightly decrease minority students' representation in the pool.
We would like to thank the Communications and Student Assessment Divisions of the Texas Education Agency for providing the data, as well as the University of Michigan's Office of Tax Policy Research and Department of Economics for providing funds for data acquisition. We would also like to thank Justine Hastings and seminar participants at several institutions for useful suggestions and the National Center for Education Statistics for access to the restricted-use version of the National Education Longitudinal Study. Excellent research assistance was provided by Claudia Becker, Joelle Cook and Danielle Fumia. The authors are accountable for all views expressed and any errors. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Cullen, Julie Berry & Long, Mark C. & Reback, Randall, 2013. "Jockeying for position: Strategic high school choice under Texas' top ten percent plan," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 32-48. citation courtesy of