Our Views: High hurdles, better hurdlers

To borrow a phrase from computer programmers, higher admissions standards for state colleges is WAD — working as designed.

The state is seeing universities that once were open to anyone with a high school degree now require students to be ready to do college work the day they step on campus.

This is a common-sense policy that is yielding big dividends, even if some students are not able to go immediately to the campus they wish to attend.

Tougher admissions standards have not led to the drastic enrollment declines predicted by some higher education leaders.

This fall, LSU, the University of New Orleans, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Tech University were prohibited 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.

Are college enrollments not as high as they would otherwise be? Yes, although LSU — the state’s flagship put the new policy in place earlier — remains a strong draw for students.

Obviously, Louisiana needs more college graduates. Lifetime earnings and a better quality of life go hand-in-hand with college attainment.

What the new policy helps is the goal of students actually making it out of college with a degree.

LSU is already seeing the dividends from higher admissions standards. Its graduation rate is the highest in history, above the Southern average, officials reported.

Even so, LSU as the flagship institution of the state’s colleges can do better. But the general lesson is that if a student is ready to do college work, he’s going to be much more likely to finish with a degree in a reasonable amount of time.

This new policy goal — graduation, not just enrollment — will hit harder at the regional universities stressing undergraduate enrollment.

But as the experiences of LSU as well as UL-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech demonstrate, there are ways for colleges to mitigate the enrollment impact. Mostly, it’s a matter of working with potential students ahead of time, urging them to take the right course mix and to achieve more in high school, such as by taking Advanced Placement classes.

One of the problems with the old open enrollment policies was that the pressure was off high schools: If their students were admitted to college, they’d done their job, right?

Well, if those students floundered in college and did not leave with a degree, the cost to the student and to the taxpayer supporting public education could be substantial.

We like the way the new goals for higher education are working, and we hope that this emphasis on preparation for college yields big future dividends in graduation rates.