State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said tougher admission standards put in place this fall will help Louisiana’s colleges reap financial benefits down the line at a time when state budget cuts have institutions scrounging for every dollar they can find
Louisiana’s high school seniors learned last spring that minimum grade point averages and ACT scores necessary to get into college had risen. They also found out they had to take extra math and science classes to get into a four-year school.
The more rigorous admission standards, which vary by school, are part of a policy designed by the state’s higher education management board, the Louisiana Board of Regents, to better match students with the college at which they are most academically prepared to succeed.
While student success is the primary goal, Purcell said, individual schools will have a better chance to reach the goals spelled out in the LA GRAD Act, a 2010 law that ties a significant chunk of a school’s revenue to meeting performance targets.
The law ties 15 percent of state funding to schools that meet retention, graduation and other performance measures. It also gives campuses permission to raise tuition by up to 10 percent each year if they meet those goals.
In light of those stakes, meeting GRAD Act targets has become a do or die situation for Louisiana’s public colleges that have seen funding from the state shrink by more than $420 million since 2008.
Some college administrators predicted the tougher admissions standards would lead to dramatic enrollment declines. Those significant drops haven’t materialized so far — at least not at the four schools where some of the toughest new admissions criteria took effect.
The University of New Orleans suffered the biggest drop, losing about 800 students. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Tech University each lost about 200 students, while LSU gained more than 560 students after bringing in a record-setting freshman class.
The students enrolled at those universities were likely more prepared for college than their predecessors, Purcell said. Consequently, they are more likely to stay in school through graduation, which helps their school meet GRAD Act targets each year along the way, he said.
For instance, colleges get more money for a junior completing a junior-level course than they would for a freshman taking a freshman-level course, explains Larry Tremblay, the regents deputy commissioner for planning research and academic affairs.
Going back to the 1960s, policy makers emphasized getting students into college with not as much attention paid to how they would perform once they got there, Tremblay said.
The thinking shifted around 2000, when policymakers began trying to match a student’s preparedness level to the academic expectations of faculty, Tremblay added.
Those pairings have taken on heightened importance considering four straight years of state budget cuts.
The GRAD Act, Tremblay said, was written to reward schools with additional money for performing well. “Now it’s about being able to keep what you have,” he said.