Now that it appears that higher education has dodged the fiscal “worst case” scenario this legislative session (at least for now… who knows what is awaiting the next governor and legislature), our state government is now looking at one of the other major funding streams for higher education.
During Thursday’s monthly Board of Regents meeting, the Regents considered changes to the state university admission criteria, which have been prompted by the precipitous enrollment drops at our regional universities, especially among African American students and at our HBCUs. These enrollment drops are almost exclusively due to GRAD Act, which bars any universities from offering developmental coursework, and the corollary admission criteria which requires that students have at least an 18 ACT English and 19 ACT math to be admitted. I have discussed this at length on this blog, but to recap, in Fall 2014:
- The majority of the Class of 2014 graduates did NOT meet these benchmarks, including over 40% of students who had an ACT composite score of 18. An 18 ACT composite is considered a “college ready” score by the ACT and is also the target college-readiness score by the Louisiana Deparment of Education;
- Over 85% of Louisiana’s African American high school graduates did not qualify for university admission;
- Only 600 Class of 2014 graduates statewide, including fewer than 170 African American graduates, met the regional-only published admission criteria, although regional universities comprise a full half of all university enrollment in Louisiana;
- The bottom would have completely fallen out of regional freshman enrollment if not for a TEMPORARY co-developmental education pilot STUDY that comprised approximately 25% of regional first time freshman enrollment at PWIs (predominantly white institutions) and approximately 35% (or more) at HBCUs;
- Even with the pilot study, 86% of the new freshman enrollment drop at regional institutions was African American, and the three four-year HBCUs absorbed two-thirds of that drop;
- Regional universities denied THOUSANDS of applicants last year. Even LSUA , which benefited from its predominantly white, middle class demographics, and was the only regional which grew freshman enrollment last year, denied at least 1,000 students to get to that enrollment growth.
- There is increasing evidence that as a result, instead of going to our equally underfunded and overstressed community colleges, African American students are going out of state, or worse, going no where.
According to the Regents who very vocally supported the current admission criteria during Thursday’s meeting, the current admission criteria are working. Retention rates are up and the co-developmental pilot study is working.
But as the Regents employees testified, the increase in retention rates since 2005 are not related at all to the current admission criteria.
In fact, GRAD Act and the corollary “zero developmental” admission criteria–which have been in full effect at our statewide institutions since 2012–HAVE HAD NO EFFECT ON RETENTION. AT. ALL.
However, the current admission criteria do two things extremely well.
They keep students out of college rather than in college. Especially African American students.
And they shrink the universities serving these students, forcing us to consider mergers/closures/privatization.
There are currently several bills dealing with the “zero developmental” line in GRAD Act which are proceeding through the Legislature. The Regents who oppose changing the admissions policies were perturbed that “politics” was forcing them to consider these changes so quickly.
Like GRAD Act wasn’t political. Despite what its supporters said, at the end of the day GRAD Act has had as much to do with student success as my shoes belong on my head. Really.
- The admission and math/English placement criteria will no longer be so ACT dependent. ACT subscores in English and math have little predictive value on student success outside two gateway courses, and almost none after the first year of college (and the first year of college is not our state’s current problem anyway–it’s persistence beyond that to graduation which is more related to a student’s ability to pay). A student with a high school core math or English GPA of at least 2.5 will also be considered college-ready;
- Regional institutions will once again be allowed to admit students needing up to one developmental course–the data show that retention at these institutions was increasing anyway while they held to this standard prior to fall 2014. In keeping with their mission, HBCUs will additionally be allowed to teach these courses. Community colleges will teach them at the other regional campuses but students will still be able to gain regional university admission even if they need one of these classes.
And for your pleasure, I have calculated the impact of these proposed standards and they are extremely balanced.
They are selective without being exclusionary.
They still maintain an adequate and healthy market for our community colleges, which mirrors the national average of 36% 2-year and 64% 4-year. The students who will be going to community colleges will be the ones who need and want to be there.
They do not systematically discriminate against African American students. They help mitigate standardized test score bias among African Americans and students in poverty.
Each tier will have adequate markets of students, and the majority of core completing high school graduates will qualify for university admission. Yes, we will still compete with one another, but it will be a healthy competition, not a brawl for institutional survival for a limited number of primarily LSU-eligible students.
They do not have “paper only” standards that so few students meet that they may as well not exist. No more will the “real” standards be LSU-eligible or community college with no in-between.
We will no longer force students to languish in developmental class after developmental class in community colleges before they give up altogether.
But the proposed admission criteria are not a done deal.
The agenda includes time for public comment.
Will anyone be there to advocate for the proposed admission criteria?
If not, pray hard if you pray, or send best wishes, or whatever. Watch the proceedings online and cheer for their passage.
These standards must be approved, and approved now, for the future of our entire higher education system from community college to flagship, and most importantly, for the futures of our students.