For anyone who has been paying attention, yesterday was the deadline to prefile bills for the upcoming Louisiana legislative session. So I’m up bright and early this morning to see if “my” legislative agenda has been prefiled.
I’m happy to say that it has, at least in part.
So while I still have limited confidence that we in higher education will get enough funding for all of us to operate through this upcoming fiscal year, there are two bills I would like to highlight here and explain why one is important for some of our institutions’ long term survival. Assuming, of course, we get out of this legislative session alive in the first place.
My first preference would have been to repeal GRAD Act altogether because I think it is an evil, evil law. That is apparently not happening. My second preference would have been to completely strike the following line from GRAD Act: “Eliminate remedial education course offerings and developmental study programs unless such courses or programs cannot be offered at a community college in the same geographic area.” While I am not arguing that admission standards be eliminated, I do have a problem with them being codified in law. I believe that they should be a matter of educational policy only.
The proposed law does not do that, but I still support it because it modifies the current law so that regional institutions will be able to admit and teach single remedial (or developmental) students. As I have demonstrated here, most prospective university students in our state, particularly most African American students, need developmental education in either math or English (mostly math). The data show that these students do not pose a significantly higher retention risk than many of the zero developmental students in our state, and in fact the “no dev ed” line in GRAD Act does more to keep students out of college than in college.
Students falling below the single developmental floor in one content area, or those requiring developmental work in both English and math would still start in community college, as is appropriate.
But passage of this bill will ensure that the regional universities will still be able to serve the students in their regions. We will have discrete markets again, we won’t all be competing for the same students, we will be able to serve the growing number of TOPS Core graduates in our respective service areas, and African American students will not be systematically excluded from our state’s universities.
Note that our retention rates were going up already before the “no dev ed” line took effect. In addition, anywhere between one-quarter and one-third of our regional universities’ first time freshman enrollment this fall fell into this category anyway due to the TEMPORARY Developmental Education Pilot program, which kept the bottom from falling out of our collective freshman enrollments. And even with this program, the drop in the regional freshman enrollment compared to fall 2013 was comprised of almost exclusively African American students. This will benefit the HBCUs for sure, but it will benefit ALL the regionals, plus also leave the community colleges with ample markets as well. As we saw yesterday, only 59% of our high school graduates went to postsecondary institutions this past fall, so there is definitely still room for the community colleges to grow within that 41% of students who didn’t go anywhere.
Of course, objectors will say that passage of this bill will reduce retention rates. The data do not indicate this. There is a very limited relationship between ACT math and English subscores (at least at the levels that we are looking at, who are single developmental students who are otherwise college ready) and retention. Want to increase retention? Early, intensive, and continual intervention programs once students are IN college. This is something LSU does well. If all LSU did was expect admission standards alone to increase retention, their retention rates would be much lower than they are, since retention rates at LSU rose even though the average ACT has been relatively steady for several years now. This kind of program, by the way, requires adequate institutional funding to implement. Defunding higher ed won’t help retention. Starving us of students won’t help retention either.
Which brings me to the second bill…
HB411: (Constitutional Amendment) Provides relative to the authority to set admission standards at public postsecondary education institutions
This particular bill gives the authority to set admission standards to system boards rather than to the Board of Regents. Since another bill proposes to abolish the Board of Regents and all the system boards, and replace them with a superboard (we’ve been there, done that before, failed before, so why not try again), I’m not sure that this bill is relevant. But it does support my argument that the Legislature should get out of the business of mandating admission criteria and put it in the hands of professional educators.
If HB333 doesn’t pass, this bill is completely irrelevant.
HB333 must pass for the future of our regional universities and for our ability to serve ALL our students, from community college to flagship, not just some of them.
That is, if we get funding.