My Open Letter to the Advocate – In Response to “Our Views” about Tuition and Admission Policies

Dear Advocate Editor,

Yesterday, (May 14), the Advocate published its views on SB155, the bill proposing a constitutional amendment to get the Louisiana Legislature out of the college tuition-setting business and give that authority to higher education management boards, just like it is in 48 out of 50 states. You rightly observe that this is not necessarily an open door for our higher education institutions to raise tuition out of the reach of our students because the marketplace will dictate otherwise.

However, the Advocate also saw fit to oppose any changes to the state’s admissions criteria in this article, since an amendment was added in committee adding admission criteria authority to the bill.

First, if the writer of this article were paying attention, they would know that this amendment was removed before it passed the Senate floor over a week before publishing its op ed.

The writer does observe that our state’s continued refusal to appropriately fund higher education may put pressure on the management boards to cut academic standards to admit more students.

However, the writer apparently does not realize that the current state admission standards are untenable. The writer would get that message, however, if he/she were paying attention to the House Education Committee and the other three bills passing that committee also dealing with the state admission criteria.

Rather, the writer of this article sounds more like it is mirroring LABI’s stance on tuition authority bills (to which it gives a thumbs up) and on admissions bills (to which it gives a thumbs down).

If we are talking about market forces, let’s look at the market.

The current published admission standards do not reflect the reality of our student population, nor do they increase retention or student success.

That is because, while on paper it looks like we have three sets of university standards (LSU, statewide, regional), operationally it is statistically unlikely that someone who doesn’t meet LSU’s standards will meet the other two sets of standards. The regional institutions including Southeastern and Southern have no discrete market. None. Unless you consider just over 600 students out of a graduating class of over 46,000 students a “market.”

So in real life, other than a TEMPORARY “pilot” program that Regents thankfully put in place to soften the blow which would have been absolutely devastating last fall, students either meet LSU’s standards or are sent to community college. Now market forces do allow statewide and regional institutions to recruit LSU eligible students. But when the majority of all high school graduates from the Class of 2014 did not meet ANY of these standards (only 35% do), and a mere 14% of African Americans meet them, there is something VERY wrong. We are excluding the vast majority of students from the “market.” And “market” forces are still at work because not all of these students went to our community colleges either (who are just as fiscally stretched as anyone else). Many went to privates, to out of state schools who are recruiting them heavily, and worst, many went no where.

Even with the “pilot” program, freshman enrollment at almost all our regional universities dropped last fall. The only one that grew–LSUA–enrolls a predominantly white population and still “referred” a huge number of students in order to get to that enrollment growth. Between approximately 25% and 37% of students would only be eligible for admission through that TEMPORARY program, depending on the institution and on demographics. It was devastating on African Americans, the vast majority of whom our state says have to start in community college based on the current standards. Eighty-six percent of the enrollment drop among first time freshmen at regionals was African American, and the three four-year HBCUs absorbed 2/3 of the hit, and that’s WITH the “pilot” program.

Fortunately (again, if the Advocate writer were paying attention), there are three bills in the House which deal with these criteria, one of which (HB333) has the support of Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo and the Board of Regents, as they testified in committee on Tuesday of this week. HB333 modifies GRAD Act so that the Board of Regents can alter the policy to reflect our state higher education market.

The current ACT math and English subscores alone do not adequately predict college success, especially not beyond the freshman year, nor were they ever meant to. In fact, Louisiana’s overreliance on ACT scores may have a net negative effect on college success since recent research indicates we may actually be denying students more likely to succeed over students less likely to persist to graduation–if this is true, it may help explain why even TOPS eligible students are not as successful as their scores might indicate. This is because high school GPA and successful completion of an appropriately rigorous college-preparatory curriculum similar to the TOPS Core 4 curriculum are much better predictors of college success than ACT subscores alone. Also, according to Regents’ own data, GRAD Act has failed to increase year 1 to 2 retention at our universities, which is the only year when ACT subscores have any predictive value at all. The current criteria keep more college-ready students out of college than in college.

There is a way to alter the policy in a smart way (and which Regents testified it is doing in conjunction with the system boards and universities right now) that both ensures student success and adequate access to higher education. This doesn’t mean open admission. This still means selective admission. But not exclusionary admission which is what we have now. There is a huge difference between selective and exclusionary. In order to do that, GRAD Act has to be amended which is what HB333 proposes to do.

Let market forces work. You can’t have it both ways saying that we have to respond to the market and then artificially restrict the market just to a largely flagship-only eligible population. Our regional universities, particularly Southern just up the road from you, will close almost as fast if we don’t do this, and that’s even if we are made fiscally “whole” as a result of this legislative session. Because we don’t just need money to operate. We need students. And that is what we are all about… students.

And please pay attention to what is actually going on in our Legislature before publishing your opinion about it.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Anonymous Admissions Director aka “ulyankee”

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