October 4, 2011
Can admission standards fix Utah’s college completion woes?
(Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune) — Utah high school students have been able to coast into college for years because the state’s open-enrollment universities take any applicant with a diploma. But in the face of weak rates of completed degrees, key educational leaders are wondering whether it’s time to erect modest barriers to give high schoolers an incentive to prepare and divert those with weak prospects into technical training.
This fall, Utah Valley University unveiled GPA and ACT score requirements that incoming students under 23 must meet to avoid remedial course work. It will be the first time an open-enrollment school in Utah asks applicants for their high school grades.
“Even if it’s only an inch high, it’s still a hurdle,” said Sen. Steve Urquhart, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, in praising the move by UVU President Matthew Holland.
Meanwhile, Utah’s selective schools — University of Utah, Utah State University, Southern Utah University and the private Westminster College — are making no secret of their desire to raise admissions standards, while Brigham Young University already maintains a high bar.
Holland’s plan marks a subtle yet profound shift in the way open-enrollment schools, the crowded work horses of Utah’s system of higher education, operate their gates. Observers say the new standards don’t foreclose the possibility of a university education for low achievers, while sending an important message.
“If you don’t [impose standards] the message is ‘Come one, come all, high school doesn’t matter.’ Yet high school matters a lot,” said Holland’s predecessor, William Sederburg, now commissioner of higher education. “You want to be clear, yet at the same time help kids. That is what Matt is trying to do.”
Weak graduation rates mean the state is squandering resources on students who don’t get degrees and far too few working-age people will have the credentials to participate in a knowledge-based economy. Students face many obstacles to graduating, such as jobs, family responsibilities and finances, but the biggest is lack of the math and language skills necessary for college-level studies. More…Posted by: psilberman