The Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) Qualified Admissions Task Force is proposing new standards for Kansas high school graduates to enter state universities. They propose to increase course requirements, but then leave the gates wider open to students who do not meet them.
Kansas was the last state with open admissions a decade ago. Graduate from a Kansas high school and you could enter state universities. The first Qualified Admissions (QA) standards went into effect for Kansas high school students graduating in May 2001. A student had to take the pre-college curriculum, OR achieve a composite score of 21 on the ACT, OR have a combined SAT of 980, OR rank in the top one-third of their graduating class. Students who could not meet any of the above could still be admitted in a “ten percent window”—that is, ten percent of enrollment could come from students who did not meet any of these criteria. The University of Kansas barely uses three percent. But several regional universities nearly “max out” the full ten percent.
At first glance, the new proposed QA criteria appear to kick up the requirements. Kansas high school graduates MUST ALL take a new fortified pre-college curriculum and then meet one of the ACT/SAT/class-rank criteria.
The new fortified QA high school curriculum still contains four units of English (although speech can now be used for one-half credit of English) and three units of natural sciences. Three units of social science must come from U.S. history (1), U.S. government (½), world history or geography or international relations (½), and one unit from among various psychology, civics, and economics options.
A bigger change is in math, requiring four years of math with one unit during the senior year OR three units of math and an ACT college readiness math score. Finally, the task force added three additional units of electives selected from a range of courses including career and technical education. This is all solidly supported by the Oct. 6 ACT study “Mind the Gaps: How College Readiness Narrows Achievement Gaps in College Success.”
But to address superintendents’ concerns that this rigorous academic curriculum will force widespread consolidation among small rural districts hard pressed to offer the required curriculum, the task force is expanding the ten percent “window” so state universities can admit up to fifteen percent of Kansas graduates that do not meet the curriculum OR any of the standards.
This bigger window is the wrong policy at the wrong time in Kansas history. The academically-able students of Kansas are already paying too much in tuition at state schools because the state’s limited tuition support is spread too thin across many students who are not college-able.
This is a time to reduce the window, not throw it wide open.
“...60 percent of incoming freshmen require some remedial instruction: according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and SREB report released June 2010. Selective four-year colleges that require a high school college prep curriculum and high GPA or test scores only have 10-15 percent needing remediation. But half of students at non-selective state universities are not college-ready, and three-fourths of students at 2-year colleges need remedial courses.
This is backed up by the ACT that finds only one-fourth of Kansas test-takers are college-ready. In Kansas, about 74% of high school seniors take the ACT test. (See “Measuring College and Career Readiness: The Class of 2009" available online at www.act.org.)
Students who drop out after just one year of college (between 2003-2008) have cost Kansas taxpayers over $93 million dollars according to a study by the American Institute for Research (AIR). According to the October 20 Education Week, “cost of educating students who dropout after one year accounts for 2 percent to 8 percent of states’ total higher education appropriations....”
Higher QA requirements will increase retention, save substantial tax money, lower tuition for the college-able, and prevent inappropriate pressure on universities to inflate grades and erode the value of degrees. But opening the exception “window” to 15 percent completely undermines these goals. Instead, a “hard 21” ACT requirement should be phased in over the next ten years for all U.S. students entering or transferring to Kansas state universities, reducing the 10 percent window by one percent per year.
The KBOR may vote on approving their new admissions standards at their December meeting.