College of Charleston to Implement Top 10 Percent Admission Program to Increase Diversity

In fall 2016, the College of Charleston will begin offering automatic admission to the top 10 percent of graduating seniors from high schools in seven South Carolina counties in an effort to boost minority student enrollment at the college, considered one of the least diverse public institutions in the state.

In a state that’s population is 28 percent African American, the College of Charleston — a public liberal arts institution — is only 7 percent black. College President Glenn McConnell, who was criticized last spring for defending Confederate imagery, said he would support the Top Ten Percent Program in an effort to boost diversity at the college.

The new program will apply to high school seniors in Berkeley, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Dorchester, Orangeburg, and Williamsburg counties. These areas represent the diverse population of South Carolina. For example, in Williamsburg County, 65 percent of the population is African American, and 31 percent of the population is living below poverty level. This year, the mean composite SAT score in Williamsburg was 1121. Meanwhile, in Charleston County, the population is 29 percent African American and 18 percent impoverished, and the county’s mean composite SAT score was 1480.

Under the Top Ten Percent Program, SAT and ACT scores will have no effect on whether students are admitted.

Brian McGee, interim provost of the College of Charleston, said the goal of the program is to promote access to higher education in the Charleston tri-county area and surrounding rural areas that, in the past, have not sent as many students to college.

“The issue for us is trying to make sure that students understand we are a good place for them, even if they went to a small high school, even if they went to a rural high school like I did,” McGee said in a statement.

Students admitted through the program will be eligible for special student and faculty mentorships and networking opportunities. And while no scholarships have been designated for these students yet, McGee said the college has been conducting fundraising meant to increase the amount of scholarship funds available to all students.

Other states have attempted to address the issue of diversity by going even farther. After a court order temporarily barred affirmative action in state schools, Texas passed a statewide Top 10 Percent Rule in 1997, which guaranteed admission to all state-funded universities for students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

That law has been credited with boosting geographic and racial diversity at Texas state schools. However, it also created some problems. In 2008, more than 80 percent of freshmen at the University of Texas at Austin came from the top 10 percent of their classes, prompting the state legislator to allow schools to place a cap on 10 percent admissions. In addition, one 2011 study found that the legislation encouraged families to move students into lower-performing schools to give them a better chance at being admitted under the 10 percent rule.

McGee said that if the College of Charleston’s program proves successful, the school might consider expanding it to other counties.