The State Minimum University Admission Criteria: The Game the House Always Wins (Part 2 in a series)

Part 2 in the series: “Bobby Jindal’s Anti-Tax Cult and John White’s ‘Reformers:’ Working Together to Keep More Kids Out of State Universities”

In my last post, I gave the readers of this blog some homework. And I promise it wasn’t some Common Core trick question, although I did warn you that most of the general public would not be able to figure it out.

In fact, even some of people in my profession—you know, the people who are paid to manage enrollment and recruit students to universities—had and still have a hard time grasping this one. I don’t think I was supposed to figure it out as quickly as I did. I do know that from the response I got back in the spring of 2010–that it wouldn’t be “that bad” and that students would “rise to the challenge”–that the state was prepared for some pushback from us in the four-year institutions. I was also sent a report showing that it wouldn’t be “that bad” although the report was only showing the impact of partial implementation in 2012, not full implementation in 2014. (I kick myself now that I left that at my old job.)

I actually wonder if the people who work for the State Board of Regents… yes, they knew what the criteria were intended to do… really expected that they would be fully implemented because they were so crazy.

First… to explain the impact of the admission standards, it’s important to see that we have four levels or “tiers” of schools, all with their (supposedly) increasing levels of selectivity. The Higher Education Desegregation Agreement of 1994 established these tiers, and while we are no longer under the Agreement, the structure of our higher education system has been kept pretty much intact since it expired ten years ago.

First, we have our technical and community colleges. Most of them are in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS), although there is also one open admission junior college in the LSU system (LSU Eunice) and one community college in the Southern system (Southern University at Shreveport or SUSLA). These colleges are “open admission” meaning that there are no minimum ACT scores to be admitted—students just have to demonstrate “ability to benefit” and have a high school diploma.

Next, there are the ten “regional” universities. They are scattered across all the other systems. They also include the three four-year HBCUs in our state. Up until fall 2014, these ten institutions were allowed to enroll students needing one “developmental” class, and, well, most Louisiana graduates need at least one developmental class as measured by the ACT. But in fall 2014, these institutions officially went “zero developmental” per GRAD Act.

There are three “statewide” universities: Louisiana Tech, University of New Orleans, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette. They too were allowed to enroll single developmental students until the fall of 2012. UNO was immediately impacted largely because there are more students with developmental needs in their primary market (New Orleans), its status as a “statewide” school notwithstanding. UL Lafayette also had a modest drop in freshman enrollment that year, but has since made up the difference and more through making much needed improvements to their university. Winning the Football Coach Lottery sure helped a lot, too. They are the hottest commodity in the state right now just under LSU, and they worked hard to get there. The UL Lafayette of ten or even five years ago would not have done so well. LaTech’s positioning as a STEM-focused university in a middle-class market always ensured that they could go zero developmental and be OK.

Finally, there is our flagship, LSU. They had already implemented essentially the same admission standards they have now before GRAD Act was passed, so, at least as far as access to an adequate pool of admissible students they would be unaffected, although they certainly have been on the revenue side. They are limited not by their ability to enroll students but their ability to serve them all due to all the budget cuts we have suffered.

All the four-year institutions across the three university tiers, from LSU down to the smallest and most underfunded regionals all share the same basic minimum criteria—18 ACT English and 19 ACT math. The main difference among them is in the high school core GPA—3.0 for LSU, 2.5 for UL Lafayette, LaTech and UNO, and 2.0 for everyone else. Sounds fair, doesn’t it?

However, once a student gets below a 3.0 GPA, it becomes increasingly likely that the student will fall below the minimum ACT English and math cut scores for college admission. After factoring in students who qualify for LSU because of their composite scores instead of GPA, only about 13% of students who qualify for four year college admission have a GPA between a 2.5 and 3.0, which is the market that the statewide institutions have that they do not share with LSU.

And once a student gets below a 2.5 GPA, there is an almost impossible chance they will meet these criteria. Only 4% of students who met the published minimum admission criteria in Louisiana last year had a GPA below a 2.5.

Four percent.

That is the market that the ten regional institutions, which collectively enroll half of the four-year university students in the state, does not share with the other four universities.

Among African American students it was even worse. Out of the entire graduating class of just under 17,000 African American students, only 15% met the published admission standards, and fewer than 200 of those students met the regional-only standard.

Here’s the statewide breakdown for the Louisiana high school graduating class of 2014:

All Louisiana African American
Graduates 46,678 16,687
Core 4 Graduates 33,619 10,997
Meet 4-Year Criteria

(2.0 GPA, 18 ACT English; 19 ACT math)

16,655 2,379
Meet LSU Minimum Criteria

(3.0 GPA or 25 ACT Comp)

13,930 (83.6%) 1,704 (71.6%)
Meet Statewide Minimum Criteria

(2.5 GPA or 23 ACT Comp)

2106 (12.7%) 507 (21.3%)
Meet Regional Minimum Criteria

(not LSU or statewide qualified; 2.0 GPA or 20 ACT Comp)

619 (3.7%) 168 (7.1%)
% Grads Qualify 4-Year 36.5% 14.3%

The regional universities have no distinct market. And the HBCUs? Well, technically, all the regionals can all fight over the entire 14% of the African American graduates from the Class of 2014 who qualify for four-year college admission, but there were a whole bunch more kids who visited us at college fairs or submitted admission applications to us last year who didn’t have the ACT subscores to qualify for university admission.

Now, I am not against giving LSU a decent market of students. This isn’t about how LSU gets everything, the statewides most of what is left, and the regionals with the scraps. Although that’s what it looks like. But remember this is a rigged game. It was designed to make all the four-year institutions fight against each other for a limited number of students and for an increasingly limited amount of resources. The losers were always meant to be the HBCUs and maybe one or two of the other regionals. It was also designed to send many more students to two-year schools, which hasn’t happened everywhere and I will get into more details on why I think that is in a subsequent post. (I am not at all against two year schools, by the way, as I am a community college product myself. They’ve suffered from GRAD Act and Jindal’s shenanigans too. All of us in higher ed have.) Of course, this also means that some institutions will get hammered as the state decides that students have to pay for it all. Some institutions won’t enroll enough students to pay for it all.

This was genius, folks. Pure, unadulterated, evil political genius. Don’t tell me that Jindal wasn’t behind this. This was a bomb that was set to go off in 2014 when he was darn near out the door, but it would just look like, wow, we really do have too many universities for the number of students we enroll.

And, for icing on the cake, here was the actual impact on our institutions’ first time freshman classes in fall 14:

2013-All 2013-African American 2014-All 2014-African American Difference-All Difference-African American % Change All First Time Fresh Enrollment % Change African Amer First Time Fresh Enrollment
Grambling 714 674 406 369 -308 -305 -43.1% -45.3%
McNeese 1330 246 1260 225 -70 -21 -5.3% -8.5%
Nicholls 1242 300 1210 263 -32 -37 -2.6% -12.3%
ULM 1339 380 1297 308 -42 -72 -3.1% -18.9%
Northwestern 1231 373 1192 374 -39 1 -3.2% 0.3%
Southeastern 2546 541 2,428 503 -118 -38 -4.6% -7.0%
LSUA 392 46 453 67 61 21 15.6% 45.7%
LSUS 345 68 348 64 3 -4 0.9% -5.9%
SUBR 1111 1053 942 888 -169 -165 -15.2% -15.7%
SUNO 247 214 143 129 -104 -85 -42.1% -39.7%
Total Regional 10497 3895 9679 3190 -818 -705 -7.8% -18.1%
UNO 857 154 868 145 11 -9 1.3% -5.8%
UL Lafayette 2716 601 2931 671 215 70 7.9% 11.6%
LaTech 1551 205 1857 233 306 28 19.7% 13.7%
Total Statewide 5124 960 5656 1049 532 89 10.4% 9.3%
LSU 5501 709 5655 678 154 -31 2.8% -4.4%
TOTAL 21122 5564 20990 4917 -132 -647 -0.6% -11.6%
HBCUs
Grambling 714 674 406 369 -308 -305 -43.1% -45.3%
SUBR 1111 1053 942 888 -169 -165 -15.2% -15.7%
SUNO 247 214 143 129 -104 -85 -42.1% -39.7%
TOTAL 2072 1941 1491 1386 -581 -555 -28.0% -28.6%
% Regional Drop – African American Students 86.2%
% Regional Drop – HBCUs 67.8%

The 3 HBCUs (Grambling, Southern, SUNO) absorbed two-thirds of the first time freshman enrollment drop at the regional institutions, because almost 90% of the drop was attributed to African American students. If that isn’t discriminatory I don’t know what is. This could be very easily projected, folks—it didn’t take a genius to figure it out, just someone who knows basic statistics—and given that the ink had barely dried on GRAD Act before Jindal attempted merging UNO and SUNO, I suspect that it was planned and targeted.

Now, you may notice that as bad as it was, significantly more students enrolled than met the published standards. That’s because the people working for the Board of Regents knew it was going to be more along the lines of what I predicted and, in order to soften the blow, allowed some of us to participate in something called the Developmental Education Pilot.

The DevEd Pilot is a study testing whether co-requisite education is something that could be successfully implemented in our state, as recommended by a reformist consortium called Complete College America (yes, I know, red flags). Co-requisite education differs from traditional developmental education in that students with developmental needs enroll in college level courses that are supported with developmental content at the same time, rather than taking sometimes several developmental level classes before being allowed to take college level English or math.

Whether that’s a good idea or not is not the issue. (Since it is a study, I am holding off on making a decision either way until the results are in, even though funding for Complete College America comes from the same reformist crowd who brought us CCSS.) The most important thing as pertains to my argument is that it not part of the admission criteria. It is a temporary program.

While both community colleges and regional universities participated in the study, at regional institutions it was the main way we could keep the bottom from falling out from our fall enrollment. It allowed us to conditionally admit students who met standards other than being within two points of the math or English cut score. It gave us at least a temporary distinct market, although we couldn’t just admit those students and go on our merry way. The condition, of course, was that we had to make sure these students enrolled in co-developmental coursework in their first semester, and then we reported on their results at the end of the semester.

I don’t know (yet) how many students participated in this program this fall statewide, beyond my own institution. However, I can calculate how many students would have qualified for the Pilot. When applied to the Class of 2014 based on their ACT scores, 25% of all core completing graduates and 37% of African Americans were Pilot eligible. When I added these percentages to the actual number of students who enrolled in our state universities this fall and also accounted for admissions exceptions (this also allows us to enroll a small percentage of students not meeting admission criteria, ranging from between 5% at LSU and 8% at the regionals—largely to recruit athletes, out of state students, etc.), and also a fairly small percentage of students who got in by other means (COMPASS or SAT testing, dual enrollment developmental education in high school), this is what the impact probably would have been:

Allowable Exceptions Est All Pilot Est African American Pilot Est All No Pilot Est African Amer No Pilot Difference All Difference African American % Change All % Change African American
Grambling 57 158 144 248 225 -466 -449 -65.3% -66.6%
McNeese 106 315 88 945 137 -385 -109 -28.9% -44.2%
Nicholls 99 303 103 908 160 -335 -140 -26.9% -46.5%
ULM 107 324 120 973 188 -366 -192 -27.4% -50.6%
Northwestern 98 298 146 894 228 -337 -145 -27.4% -38.8%
Southeastern 204 607 196 1821 307 -725 -234 -28.5% -43.3%
LSUA 31 113 26 340 41 -52 -5 -13.3% -11.2%
LSUS 28 87 25 261 39 -84 -29 -24.3% -42.6%
SUBR 89 367 346 575 542 -536 -511 -48.3% -48.6%
SUNO 20 56 50 87 79 -160 -135 -64.7% -63.2%
Total Regional 840 2628 1244 7051 1946 -3446 -1949 -32.8% -50.0%
UNO 51
UL Lafayette 163
LaTech 93
*Total Statewide  307
*LSU 220
Total Impact Without Pilot 18362 3673 -2760 -1891 -13.1% -34.0%
HBCUs
Grambling 57 158 144 248 225 -466 -449 -65.3% -66.6%
SUBR 89 367 346 575 542 -536 -511 -48.3% -48.6%
SUNO 20 56 50 87 79 -160 -135 -64.7% -63.2%
Total Impact 166 581 541 910 845 -1162 -1096 -56.1% -56.4%

*LSU and statewide universities have not yet participated in the Pilot.

Obviously, cancelling the Pilot would have been devastating not just for the HBCUs, but for most of the other regional universities. So we were collectively biting our nails until the last meeting of the Regents when it was thankfully extended for another year. But I know for a fact that it wasn’t extended just to buy time or to avoid the worst case scenario that I described above. It was extended because there were enough glimmers of hope that yes, this thing could work that the Regents agreed for one more year of research. Maybe we wanted it for the enrollment, but that wouldn’t have been enough by itself for the Regents to justify extending it. And, technically, it violates the GRAD Act statute because GRAD Act clearly says that four-year universities are no longer allowed to provide developmental education. The Pilot is still a temporary program and if the Regents decides tomorrow to cancel it, we are toast.

Even with the Pilot, all of the four year institutions are competing for essentially the same students. Qualified African American students are going mostly to LSU and two of the three statewides… although I contend that the profile of the students who are going at least to LSU now were the same ones who were going before. UL Lafayette’s and LaTech’s recent enrollment success should not have come at the expense of other institutions to the level that it did. They benefited from a trickle down effect from LSU-eligible students, but that effect stopped in its tracks at the regionals. This is because many of the regionals, especially the HBCUs and institutions enrolling more African American students or students in poverty, are no longer allowed to enroll the students that before GRAD Act comprised much if not most of their student base.

Most of the students who qualify for college admission in our state either qualify for LSU or for community colleges. All the other institutions would get in a bidding war, with money many of us don’t have. It’s expensive to recruit against LSU. Heck, these days it’s expensive to recruit against UL Lafayette, the previously sleeping giant in Lafayette that woke up in time to avoid disaster. They can play this game… but many of the rest of us are in a hole we cannot recruit our way out of, at least not with us all surviving, because most of the students in our state no longer qualify for four-year college admission.

While many of us are recruiting a lot more out of state, that’s a really limited option too because Louisiana students aren’t the only ones who can’t get in our universities—a lot of out of state students can’t either. And this isn’t all about how Louisiana students can’t perform like students in other states… in fact the data show that our students are (or were) improving, which I will talk about in more detail in my next post. We’ve just raised the bar to a level not seen in any other state. Schools in surrounding states know this and see Louisiana as a prime market. If you work for a university, go ask your recruiting office how many Mississippi and Alabama schools they see at college fairs compared to a few years ago. They aren’t here for the crawfish and gumbo. And more and more of our students are going to Mississippi every year. Plus, Louisiana is no longer the grand higher education bargain it was just a few short years ago.

If you are a faculty member reading this and wondering why it looks like the admissions office is getting stuff that you aren’t on the academic side, it’s not because we are your enemy or because administration cares more about us than about you. It’s because the game is rigged and your administration may have decided that spending more money on recruitment is going to buy a little more time for your institution and for your job. At least I am admitting this and I don’t ask for things that I know (1) won’t recruit admissible students, because I certainly don’t need to deny any more students admission than I already am and (2) will perpetuate the bidding war for a limited number of students while further undermining the academic core. I am attacking the problem at its source. Jindal’s GRAD Act and the current admission criteria. I know full well that I am risking my job and my career to do this. But I have to because it is the right thing to do and this legislative session may make or break public higher education in this state and any chance that our citizens—ALL our citizens—continue to have access to affordable public higher education.

I hope I’ve demonstrated that the admission criteria we have now do not make academic or even marketing sense. They are designed to do one thing—save money by shrinking our universities. They do this by keeping students OUT of college rather than IN college. According to the Board of Regents Fact Book, this has indeed happened since Jindal has taken office, and that was without yet feeling the full impact of the standards. I calculated in 2010 that the net impact would potentially be $400 million per graduating class per year. Of course, since our tuitions have all skyrocketed since then, I’m sure that it would now be at least the half-billion that our governor’s executive budget is estimating may be higher ed’s share of budget cuts if the Legislature does not roll back some refundable tax credits. Maybe this is our punishment for insisting on continuing the DevEd Pilot and trying everything we can to maintain enrollment. Or for not rolling over and playing dead when Jindal proposed merging institutions. Was this the amount we were supposed to be cut all along?

The state’s official, published admission criteria were specifically designed to shrink the REGIONAL universities. Especially the three four year HBCUs—Grambling, Southern University at Baton Rouge, and Southern University at New Orleans. Students who once were qualified for the four-year regionals are increasingly being funneled toward community colleges. That does not sound like a bad thing. But when I say that the ten regionals have no discrete market between the flagship and statewide institutions and the community colleges, I hope you can see I am not exaggerating.

While I do not have enough evidence to say that this was intentional, they also do another thing extremely well. They work toward ensuring that most African American students are denied direct access to four-year state university education in our state.

In my final post in this series, I’m going to show why we should be growing, not shrinking, and that the greatest impact was felt among students graduating from Orleans Parish. Orleans Parish, which collectively (private, public, and charter combined) graduates more students than any other parish except East Baton Rouge, is ground zero for the resegregation of our higher education system.

Data sources used for this post:

ACT EIS (Enrollment Information Service) for the Class of 2014—this is a subscription product and cannot be released to the public. The public can get access to the Class of 2014 Class Profile Report. The media can contact ACT to verify the accuracy of this information.

Class of 2013-2014 STS (Student Transcript System) Report from the Board of Regents.

Statewide Student Profile System (SSPS) Reports from the Board of Regents

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10 thoughts on “The State Minimum University Admission Criteria: The Game the House Always Wins (Part 2 in a series)

  1. How is this related to the latest DOA plan to cash out the remainder of the tobacco settlement and put the proceeds into TOPs? I can see that if you structure admission requirements to advantage the votech colleges and LSU over the other four-year universities in terms of enrollments, plus you shift a lot of the higher ed budget from direct appropriation to the institutions toward TOPS, that you could essentially defund all the universities except LSU. Do the actual annual budgets of the universities for 2008-15 bear that out? Does LSU’s stay flat or increase while the others shrink (after you factor out tract other sources of funding like LSU football, federal research grants, and so on)? If that is true, though, why would the next move involve giving TOPS such a big infusion of tobacco settlement funding? LSU will not be able to enroll enough students to use all that TOPS money unless tuition keeps increasing 10% every year for the next decade. If the process you describe will result in the closure of SUNO, LSU-E, and many others, then what would all the new TOPS funding be used for?

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    • First, I don’t think the plan was ever to close all the institutions except LSU. I think instead that the plan was to overall make higher ed a lot smaller than it is now… there would be winners and losers, and the losers would close/merge/privatize. I do think the admission criteria were designed to ensure that LSU would be relatively unaffected as far as enrollment was concerned, but that it would otherwise force institutions to (1) fight against each other for a limited number of students and resources to survive (thus turning on each other rather than Jindal) (2) force a significant number of one of Jindal’s natural political opposition groups out of state (“librul” faculty) (3) silence another political opposition group/coalition (African Americans and HBCUs). Remember, “we” (institutions) supposedly AGREED to GRAD Act and signed on to the GRAD Act agreements. So any failures would look like “our” fault, not his. I don’t pretend for a minute that certain institutions “failing” GRAD Act wasn’t predicted if not outright calculated.

      However, Jindal and the DOA don’t work in the higher ed trenches and while some of what they intended did come to pass, not everything did. They miscalculated a couple of things big time, and these impact TOPS. One, many of the prospective students they are blocking from four-year institutions are not on TOPS to begin with, or at least not TOPS Opportunity and above. Second, students are not flocking to the two-year schools. The admission criteria were originally designed to send half of our students to the four-year and the other half to the two-year institutions. While the shift from four- to two- year institutions has happened in some places and among some populations (that’s actually one of the main points in my next post) it hasn’t happened overall. One reason is there is still such a huge stigma in our state against the two-year schools. Our kids want four-year degrees and want high paying four-year degree jobs–and even though in reality some two-year programs lead to better paying jobs than the four-year, they see that as settling and as a failure. Some institutions are growing like BRCC, but not all are even though the students are there for them to enroll. Many students would rather not go to school at all than go to the two-year institutions, and that’s not exaggerating. I don’t think that’s completely fair, but since we’ve underfunded the community colleges as much as the four-years they are having a hard time keeping up with serving their student base as well–so word of mouth among some students is keeping more students away. They also transfer/leave the two-year schools as soon as they can get out. So that revenue isn’t going back into higher ed because many of the students who were supposed to go to the two-year and can’t get in the four-year are either going out of state or nowhere. While we are getting some TOPS-eligible leakage out of state (especially from students who are TOPS eligible but not four-year university eligible, which yes can happen), we are still enrolling most of our TOPS eligible kids. So the TOPS savings that I armchair calculated back in 2010 (and which I suspect someone else did too, LOL) didn’t materialize, and not just because we raised tuition as much as we did.

      Also, I think that they miscalculated the loopholes that institutions and Regents would find around GRAD Act… notably the Developmental Education Pilot. The bottom was supposed to drop out of the regional institutions’ enrollment this past fall and it didn’t because of that program. Just as people are saying about the higher ed budget, it was bad but not apocalyptic. But like the higher ed budget, it is on thin ice and could easily melt into apocalyptic territory.

      What they are doing with the tobacco settlement money deserves its own post because I’m afraid that might spell an early death for TOPS (not to mention the Board of Regents Support Fund which funds the research of rising faculty in order to position them for federal grants). As Treasurer Kennedy said yesterday, selling off one of the few ASSETS that the state has left to raid will add to the structural deficit… and then there goes TOPS. Right now, that money is in a trust fund which earns money for TOPS and other programs. If we sell off the trust fund, where will the money for TOPS come from?

      If TOPS disappears, some institutions are really really really really toast. And not the ones you’d expect… because the institutions that are always on people’s short list for closure/merger don’t enroll as many TOPS eligible students (including the two you mentioned, although LSUE is a two-year school) as others. UNO would be on my short list of an institution that would struggle greatly with that one.

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      • As a teacher in a public high school with 100% black students attests that those students and their teachers and principals understand your calculations all too well and talk about them at meetings about how to save their schools from being labeled as “failing” and taken over. If trying on the ACT is unlikely to lead to any opportunity, almost no one will even try anymore, leading to more takeovers of public schools. Is this, like the LSU hospitals, all about making the public sector look as bad as possible so that “failing” public high schools and universities can be privatized to “save” them (and make those who run the private educational sector even wealthier)?

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      • I recruit in several majority black high schools myself and yes, they do understand… although SPS scores are based on the ACT composite, not on the ACT subscores. The magic score as far as SPS is concerned is an 18… and based on last year’s state ACT data (which includes both the state and national test date results) only 42% of black students in Louisiana who got an 18 ACT composite also got the minimum math and English scores required to go to our state’s universities. So actually that doesn’t count against the schools… but it DOES hurt the students obviously. Some colleges offer developmental education classes in high schools through dual enrollment, but since that does not help the schools’ SPS scores, I’m seeing that fewer high schools (particularly traditional publics) are asking for those classes even though they know students need them. Instead this year more schools are spending SCA (Supplemental Course Academy) funds for ACT prep to boost the ACT composite since that does help the SPS score. Obviously the composite is based on the subscores, so getting better ACT scores overall increases the chance a student will get the scores needed for college admission, but the fact is a lot of students with 18 composites are struggling with the math subscore. Of the black students last year who got an 18 or better composite, 46% did NOT get the 19 math required for university admission.

        Still, of all the black students last year who took the ACT, only 35% got an 18 composite… and students getting less than an 18 score their schools a zero on their SPS. 😦

        It is a biased test, and meant to measure individual student achievement, not school success. So it is indeed part of how the game is rigged overall. 😦

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