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Jockeying for position: Strategic high school choice under Texas' top ten percent plan


  • Cullen, Julie Berry
  • Long, Mark C.
  • Reback, Randall


Beginning in 1998, all students in the state of Texas who graduated in the top 10% 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 10% 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, at least 5% enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top 10%. These students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of transferring to more competitive schools and, regardless of own race, typically displace minority students from the top 10% pool. Relatively few students have both the motive and opportunity to behave strategically in the short run, so systemic effects are inherently slight. Our finding of sizable take-up in the face of costly strategizing, however, suggests that endogenous group membership may be important in the longer run and in other settings where individuals can select their peers and are then “graded on a curve.”

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:97:y:2013:i:c:p:32-48 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2012.08.012

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Benjamin Elsner & Ingo E. Isphording, 2017. "A Big Fish in a Small Pond: Ability Rank and Human Capital Investment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(3), pages 787-828.
    2. De Fraja, Gianni & Martínez-Mora, Francisco, 2014. "The desegregating effect of school tracking," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 164-177.
    3. Figlio, D. & Karbownik, K. & Salvanes, K.G., 2016. "Education Research and Administrative Data," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
    4. Kalena E. Cortes & Andrew I. Friedson, 2014. "Ranking Up by Moving Out: The Effect of the Texas Top 10% Plan on Property Values," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 67(1), pages 51-76, March.
    5. Fernanda Estevan & Thomas Gall; Patrick Legros; Andrew F. Newman, 2014. "College Admission and High School Integration," Working Papers, Department of Economics 2014_26, University of São Paulo (FEA-USP).
    6. Baicker, Katherine & Clemens, Jeffrey & Singhal, Monica, 2012. "The rise of the states: U.S. fiscal decentralization in the postwar period," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(11), pages 1079-1091.
    7. Dario Cestau & Dennis Epple & Holger Sieg, 2017. "Admitting Students to Selective Education Programs: Merit, Profiling, and Affirmative Action," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 125(3), pages 761-797.
    8. Rodney Andrews & Omari Swinton, 2014. "The Persistent Myths of “Acting White” and Race Neutral Alternatives to Affirmative Action in Admissions," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 41(3), pages 357-371, September.
    9. Peter Arcidiacono & Michael Lovenheim, 2016. "Affirmative Action and the Quality-Fit Trade-Off," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 54(1), pages 3-51, March.

    More about this item


    Incentive effects; Moral hazard; School choice; College admission;

    JEL classification:

    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • H73 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Interjurisdictional Differentials and Their Effects
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • J60 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - General
    • J78 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Public Policy (including comparable worth)


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