Intermission: A Shout Out to Dr. Kimbrough

I am diligently working on Part 3, but I just couldn’t let this go by any longer since it may be another day or so before I’m ready to post the conclusion of my series exposing how Jindal planned to shrink our state universities from not just appropriations but enrollment.

One of the things that I have said to my counterparts in higher education is that private institutions need us in the publics to be healthy. If we aren’t healthy, they won’t be either, because our communities and our state will suffer. Students and families will leave. Or not come here in the first place. Jindal may think that giveaways are what will bring businesses here, but businesses bring people, those people want education for their kids, and heck, if they can’t get it then they won’t come here and the economy will suffer. And that’s not just bad for the publics Jindal has destroyed to give away the state to businesses that end up bolting. It’s bad for the privates, too.

So we can always count on Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the esteemed “hip hop” president of Dillard University to keep it real and say what needs to be said.

Before I discuss his article, remember that his institution was one of the only ones in the New Orleans area that grew in fall 2014. I know for a fact that some of the students that my institution was not able to admit ended up going to Dillard University. So you would think that if anyone might have “benefited” from the state admission standard fall out that I detailed in my last post, it would be his institution.

But that’s not the way it works. We aren’t characters in an Ayn Rand novel. We are in the real world where not everything is zero sum and winners don’t always rejoice at the losers. Sometimes we all lose. Dr. Kimbrough gets it.

He also understands, unlike the architects of GRAD Act, that shrinking higher education by keeping it out of reach of a predominantly African American population is bad for everyone, not just for one segment of education or of the population.

While I’ve mostly addressed the access issue, Dr. Kimbrough looks at the funding issue that is TOPS. And you don’t see his whole argument if all you read is the Advocate’s blog on the subject, which simply says that TOPS is in need of review because it “disproportionately goes to white students from wealthier families.” (And no, Mr. Sadow of the Hayride, Dr. Kimbrough is not attacking TOPS per se. It is a critique. Critiques are meant to improve something. Big difference. And yes, it is possible, Mr. Sadow, to qualify for TOPS Opportunity and not for four-year university admission. I also doubt that his institution is getting rich off GO Grants either since their allocation is for $275,000. GO Grants and max Pell still don’t meet the total cost of attendance for many students.)

Click through to the Shreveport Times link and read Dr. KImbrough’s entire op ed.

His argument is:

  1. TOPS was originally envisioned to guarantee higher education access to low and moderate income students “‘based on their academic achievements, and not on their ability to pay.’ Last summer, Phyllis Taylor reiterated that the program was conceived to help children of need, and that alterations in GPA and ACT score impact low income and students of color.”
  2. TOPS doesn’t do that because there is no income cap as well as because of the GPA and ACT criteria. (My research indicates that in Louisiana, the ACT is much the bigger factor over GPA.) Only 17% of students receiving TOPS are African American.
  3. TOPS largely subsidizes the education of students from families with the ability to pay.
  4. One of the arguments for TOPS is that it keeps students in state. It doesn’t. Students since 2012 are leaving based on data in the National Center for Education Statistics (I’ve looked quite a bit at that too and those data will factor heavily in my next post). And the students who are leaving are the students with options–those students who are likely to be awarded TOPS anyway.

I agree with Dr. Kimbrough’s argument, but a conversation about TOPS has to include a conversation about the state admission criteria and its similar impact on African American students.

While 17% of African American students get TOPS, the students who qualify for four-year university education in the first place are the lucky ones, even the ones who don’t get TOPS. Only 14% of African American high school graduates last year met our published admission criteria. And in my last post, I detailed the disproportionate impact that had in which nearly 90% of the drop in regional university first time freshman enrollment was accounted for by African American students.

I would guess that many of the students that Dillard enrolled this past fall (or at least the ones that my institution sent him thanks to the admission criteria) did not qualify for TOPS.

I could have offered them a more affordable university option though even if they didn’t have TOPS. But I really couldn’t, except through the partner community college program on my campus. If a student who wants a bachelors degree has Option A, a community college bridge/transfer program (that will take longer to complete than going straight into a four-year university AND studies show that underrepresented students have a lower rate of success in), and Option B, admission to a private four-year university, you’d better bet that student will more than likely choose Option B.

But Option B costs more money.

And the student doesn’t have TOPS.

That is the population that Dr. Kimbrough is serving on his campus. I’ve heard him in person talk about them. Some of those kids don’t have enough money left over to eat during school breaks. Some are struggling with places to live during school breaks as well–that’s why they have to live on campus. These are the kids on the margins that could go to school at my institution on Pell and GO Grants… or at least could before this year when our state will probably price higher education out of the reach of those students on the margins.

These are our state’s rejects. Our state has decided that they aren’t worth TOPS and aren’t worth going to four-year university either. But at least some are going to Dillard University.

But as I mentioned in my last post, and I will demonstrate in my next one, the exodus out of Louisiana appears to be related to the increased admission criteria. However, in my next post I will also show that many of our Core 4 completing high school graduates are going NO WHERE. These are the students with no options that Dr. Kimbrough speaks of.

TOPS isn’t the problem per se. It is our state’s overreliance on ACT cut scores that cut most African American students out of the higher education equation, both on the TOPS side AND the admissions side. They go hand in hand. They work together to make, to paraphrase Bobby Jindal, our government smaller and our state stronger, but just for the very small population that Jindal and his enablers deem are the fittest. I contend that was the plan all along.

And Dr. Kimbrough, go to mississippi.edu if you haven’t already. Those data are updated to the fall 2014 semester. We do know that more and more Louisiana students are going to Mississippi. To Jackson State and Southern Miss. Where they get scholarships. Including the kids who don’t qualify for admission and don’t qualify for TOPS.

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