Regents, Now that HB171 Passed, Don’t Be Afraid to Approve New Admission Criteria

Although I have not posted as much recently as I had been, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been paying attention to the goings on in our legislative session.

While the fate of higher education’s funding is going to go down to the wire, no thanks to some bearded ideologue who I’m not even sure has ever darkened the doors of our state capitol, I can report that people like me who are standing in the gap for our state’s college-bound students scored a victory yesterday.

HB171, which amends GRAD Act so that our HBCUs can once again admit and instruct students needing a single developmental course–and not be penalized for doing so–passed the Senate 36-0 [Sen. Guillory (R-Opelousas) was conveniently absent for the vote].

Now I have been advocating for HB333, which would have done the same for all our regional universities, not just the HBCUs. But there’s more going on at the Board of Regents on the policy side that will help all the universities, not even just the regionals but all of us. Plus community college enrollment will be protected as well (I project they will still have around 40% of the market). If these proposed policies are approved by the Regents on June 17, in conjunction with HB171 they will ensure that students will go where they need and want to go and not be excluded from state postsecondary enducation–they will accomplish essentially the same thing that HB333 proposed to do. Institutions like mine will no longer be ineffectively competing with out of state schools or worse, with the streets.

I discussed these policies in my last post, but to recap, the proposals on the table will:

  • allow students who did well in English and math in high school (current proposal is 2.5 GPA but 3.0 GPA has been considered as well) to be considered college-ready in these gateway subject areas. This will especially help African American students and students in poverty who do not do as well on standardized tests, making college admission much less a function of race and income than it is now;
  • allow regional institutions to admit single developmental students. Even though the HBCUs will be allowed to teach these classes, ALL regionals will be able to admit them. Regional PWIs will partner with community colleges who will teach these developmental courses, just like they are already doing under the current incarnation of GRAD Act.

Now there has been some concern among the Regents that these proposals will just open up the door for students who won’t succeed at the four-year universities, and Regents staffers have emphasized that they would revisit this in two years to see how it is working because they do not have the data to project how it will work. This understandably didn’t give the more conservative Regents a warm and fuzzy feeling about this whole proposal, which is why it was deferred on May 27th and also probably why there wasn’t a quorum at the special meeting convened on the criteria on June 1, even though according to the Regents’ Twitter feed there were a lot of people there in professional development on the standards.

Well, in case I have some secret readers here who might tell someone who might tell someone there are data, yes, actually, there are data to support these proposals.

First, lets look at the ACT composites of the students who would be positively impacted by the high school math and English GPA component of the proposal. These are students who now are not allowed direct admission at any of our universities, but if adopted, could be admitted at either our regionals or our statewide institutions because then they will be considered “zero developmental” (this will especially help UNO):

Students with 2.5 GPA–single developmental math: 19.5 ACT composite

Students with 3.0 GPA–single developmental math: 20.1 ACT composite

Students with 2.5 GPA–single developmental English: 18.3 ACT composite

Students with 3.0 GPA–single developmental English: 18.5 ACT composite

Among African American students, these ACT composites are slightly lower but not by much… in all cases are above an 18.

According to the ACT and our erstwhile LDoE commissioner John White, 18 is the magic! score indicating college-readiness. In fact, our public schools get 25% of their SPS points for students getting the magic! 18 composite. But over 40% of these students don’t meet the current published admission standards.

And you see that average 20 ACT up there? Among single developmental math students with a 3.0 GPA (math is the Number One Barrier to University Admission in our state)? Now I would like to let this sink in. Under our current published admission standards, we are denying direct university admission to TOPS eligible students!!!!

Members of the Regents, you should not be afraid to adopt these criteria. In fact, you should be ASHAMED if you don’t. We are currently DENYING DIRECT ADMISSION TO TOPS ELIGIBLE STUDENTS!!!!!

This is not theory. This is not conjecture. This isn’t even a rare occurrence. This is FACT.

Now, either this was an oversight or a clever way to save money. Because it does save money. I had armchair-calculated five years ago the published admission criteria would save $400 million a year at least.

On the backs of students we said would get TOPS but OOPS, you don’t qualify for admission anymore, so go to Mississippi instead where they will be happy to admit you AND give you TOPS equivalent scholarships.

Whether this was a feature that our governor built into GRAD Act, or an oversight by Regents, or a combination of the two, THIS NEEDS TO BE FIXED. NOW. And the proposal on the table will indeed fix it.

And yes, Virginia, we have plenty of data to see how TOPS students are doing, because annual reporting on these students is legislatively mandated. So don’t be afraid.

The second thing to look at are retention rates among single developmental students, who will once again be allowed admission if the policies are changed. Regents staffers claim there isn’t data to see if this will cause retention rates to drop.

But there is. Among the statewide institutions which stopped enrolling single developmental students in 2012. One would think that if keeping single developmental students out of universities would increase retention, well, these institutions would see increases in retention beginning in 2012.

Let’s look at UNO, which has argued that it is a special case in that it is an urban university in New Orleans, because it is the institution in the region that was most negatively impacted by the published admission criteria, and which stands to gain the most by the changes on the table.

Retention 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Yr 1-2 68.7% 68.6% 68.5% 63.4% 66.8% 64.5% 67.2%
Yr 2-3 NA (Katrina) 54.5% 52.4% 49.4% 49.8% 54.9% 48.0%

(taken from Louisiana Board of Regents Higher Education Factbook 2014-15)

Now, if you only look at the year 1-2 retention rate between 2012 (the year UNO adopted the GRAD Act “zero developmental” standards) and 2013, it looks like, wow, they really did have an impact. But look at the trends since 2007. Prior to GRAD Act, the last time Louisiana made significant changes to the admission criteria was in 2005. Bobby Jindal took office in 2008, and by 2010 higher education was seeing significant budget cuts, plus we converted to a performance based funding structure beginning in that year. So are UNO’s fluctuations in retention dating back to 2010 really a function of budget and not admission standards?  So the increase in 2013 cannot be adequately attributed to admission standards alone because UNO had HIGHER first year retention rates back in 2007-2009! While admitting students that our state now says are not “college ready”!

In addition, retention rates at our four year universities overall have stalled and instead have started to fall slightly according to the Factbook.

So the admission standards are not the primary factor here. The last set of admission standards to have a real impact on retention were the ones put in place as a result of the now-expired Desegregation Agreement.

The real factor, as Commissioner Joseph Rallo indicated to Regents on May 27, is funding for student services, which includes retention services.

And since we can’t count on our state to fund us, at least let us enroll students. Otherwise we will be starved to death. And I can affirm that isn’t a very effective student retention strategy, coming from one of the institutions which is in starvation mode.

I am hopeful that since HB171 was passed that the Regents will adopt these criteria on June 17 and we will at least not be starved on the enrollment side.



One thought on “Regents, Now that HB171 Passed, Don’t Be Afraid to Approve New Admission Criteria

  1. Pingback: Let’s Pretend We Can Make Sense of SAVE | LA Higher Ed Confessions

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