The Governor got it right. College admission standards need to rise—dramatically!
Kansas was the very last state to have "open admissions" where any high school graduate could enter the regents schools. "Qualified Admissions" (QA) were finally implemented for high school seniors graduating in May of 2001 and consist of a weak set of requirements including 21 ACT, class rank, and completion of an important college-prep curriculum. But QA standards only apply to students entering the six regents universities (not community colleges) and they have a 10 percent window to admit those who do not make QA. So, many students with an ACT below 21 are admitted through these "windows." Some regional universities "max out" their window while the University of Kansas only uses a little over one-third.
Therefore many students who have no chance of completing college-level work enroll in Kansas colleges. Parents may assert that their student is a poor test-taker or was ill the day of the test. But a student with an ACT score of 14 has no chance to complete bonafide college work. And while a student with scores of 16–18 may have been poorly served by their high school, or had a "bad day" the day of the ACT test, students scoring in that range have very low likelihood of completing college work. In these economic times, can Kansas afford to admit 10 low performing students in order to save one or two?
In spite of some students’ and parents’ belief that they are "paying their full way" through school, the tuition paid by individuals is only a fraction of the actual cost of higher education. While administrators can weigh in external grants and scholarships, and otherwise fudge the numbers to make the state contribution seem lower, the state uses tax dollars to underwrite each college student. It is an investment in our next generation to make Kansas better in the 2030's and 2040's. But to "invest" in a student with an ACT of 14 who will never succeed is heartbreak for the student and a waste of state money.
How much state money matches each dollar of tuition paid by the student? If we use the yardstick of in-state versus out-of-state tuition, where the out-of-state student is supposedly paying for the full cost of their instruction (at K.U.: $6,600 to $16,107), then the state taxpayer is putting in well over $2 for each $1 paid by the student.
In the 1980's only about 45 percent of high school graduates entered college and roughly 30 percent of the total graduated in 4 years. Today, we are approaching 77 percent of Kansas high school graduates entering tertiary schools, but still roughly 30 percent of the total are graduating in 4 years (close to half graduate in 6 years).
Are university professors just unreasonably hard? No. The August 2009 ACT report confirms that only 26 percent of Kansas ACT test-takers were "college ready" in all four test areas, compared to 24 percent nationwide (www..act.org). And the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment Projections for 2016 show we only need 20 percent of the population with bachelor degrees and higher. The nationwide fever to raise college retention and graduation rates is a blatant call to inflate grades and decrease the value of the American degree.
To save the integrity of Kansas degrees, and to match the pocketbook of the state of Kansas in a deep recession, it is past time to raise the admissions requirement at all state regents schools and community colleges. The funding shortfall is now, not four years intothe future, so there should be some mechanism to implement the higher requirements for next year. And it is wrong to single out one regents university to be the dumping grounds for students who cannot make the admissions standards (a requirement that guarantees the school will rank in the bottom tier on the U.S. News & World Report list). Exempting community colleges just gives a back door around the standards. We need admission standards for all.
Kansas is a populist state that historically has given its children a second and third and fourth chance. Letters-to-the-editor have already protested the Governor’s proposal with: "I pay taxes, so my child has the right to go to college!" In hard economic times, we can no longer afford to pay 2-for-1 for students with no chance for academic success. It is time to tell our children that an ACT score of 14 no longer gets you into college.