Tougher college admission standards so far have not led to the dramatic enrollment declines predicted by some higher education leaders as schools have shifted strategies and started targeting better prepared students.
Some of the Louisiana’s larger colleges have been able to fend off the doomsday enrollment scenarios even while traveling a tougher road, universities reported Wednesday.
A new state policy kicked in this fall prohibiting LSU, the University of New Orleans, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Tech University from offering remedial courses to incoming freshmen who are not quite ready to take regular coursework.
That change will go into effect for the other four-year colleges in 2014.
Some schools have gotten creative to offset possible enrollment losses by employing outreach campaigns at high schools, offering online courses and expanding recruiting efforts.
Critics of Louisiana’s higher education system contend the state historically has been far too willing to funnel ill-prepared students into four-year schools — a trend, they say, contributed to the South’s second-lowest graduation rate.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell explained that the Louisiana Board of Regents, the state’s top higher education board, shifted its goals from a decade ago, when the aim was to increase enrollment, to a new model stressing the importance of leaving school with a degree in hand.
The new “Access to Success” model was made possible by the expansion of Louisiana’s community colleges which are supposed to thrive on students who need remedial, or developmental, courses.
More than 80,000 students enrolled last year in community and technical colleges in Louisiana, which accounts for about 35 percent of all undergraduates in public colleges.
Starting this fall, students needed to complete an extra social studies class and an additional math or science course to get into a four-year school; class rank would no longer help them, and schools calculated grade-point-averages only on the “Core 4 curriculum” of math, science, English and social studies.
Most of the state’s public schools began requiring minimum core grade point averages ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 out of a 4.0 scale, and minimum ACT scores ranging from 20 to 25 out of a possible 36. In some cases, lower standardized test scores could be offset by high GPAs.
LSU previously established the stricter requirement of a 3.0 GPA on core classes.
Requiring higher standards in the core curriculum has helped students fare better on their ACTs and has reduced the number of students needing developmental courses, Purcell said.
The policy shift also came in response to a state Legislature that had become increasingly alarmed as more and more dollars were being spent on remedial education at four-year schools, regents Chief of Staff Kim Hunter Reed said.
The higher admission standards do a better job matching students to a campus most suited for them, added Larry Tremblay, the regents deputy commissioner for planning research and academic affairs. Schools may admit fewer freshman every year but those students will be better prepared and more likely to complete school, he said.
LSU’s strategy to offset enrollment losses began over the past several years by expanding its recruiting base in Texas, making serious efforts in Dallas and Houston, said David Kurpius, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management.
Some prospective students were encouraged to take necessary summer courses to be granted admission in the fall, said David Kurpius, LSU associate vice chancellor for enrollment management.
Other students, who did not take the “correct” classes while in high school are allowed to take a proficiency test, Kurpius said.
An ever increasing number of students, however, are directed to Baton Rouge Community College where some students are eligible to enter LSU after completing 30 credit-hours and maintaining a 2.5 grade point average.
“This is not a one-size fits all,” Kurpius said. “There are different ways deficiencies can show themselves and there are multiple ways to meet the requirements. We’re committed to helping students because we want them at LSU.”
At the University of Louisiana Lafayette, DeWayne Bowie, vice president for enrollment management said online courses have helped to offset potential student losses but the school has mainly relied on a proactive approach to let students know the new rules they’re facing.
Bowie said the school started sending letters to prospective students, their parents and high school counselors several years ago encouraging them to “dual-enroll” in college level coursework as seniors in high school.
Bowie said ULL has benefitted from their outreach by admitting three record setting freshman classes in a row in terms of highest average grade point average and ACT scores.
But Bowie admits the new standards have caused some pain. “We have denied more kids we’d normally be able to admit in the past,” he said. “It’s troubling for the kid and it’s troubling for us.”
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