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Archive for Saturday, February 16, 1991

SATURDAY COLUMN

February 16, 1991

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News reports from Topeka this past week told of plans to increase tuition charges for admission to Kansas regents institutions; discussions about who should be the governing body of the far-too-many community junior colleges; the status of funding for the third year of the important Margin of Excellence program; the funding or lack of funding for the Kansas Centers of Excellence programs and many other education-related matters.

One of the more interesting developments focused on the question of English proficiency standards for those teaching at the college level. It's often difficult for students to concentrate and follow classroom discussion when their instructors-teachers cannot express themselves in reasonably understandable English. For one reason or other, many regents schools do not want to follow the KU plan, which requires a higher English proficiency.

AS YET, there has been little, if any, public discussion about one of the most important issues facing higher education in Kansas. This is the question of qualified admissions to the state's regents institutions.

Kansas is the only state which does not have some kind of admission qualifications. Presently any graduate of an accredited Kansas high school has automatic admission as a freshman at any of the regents institutions.

It is a fine concept and the record of higher education in Kansas, as well as the record of many graduates of the system, is one of the nation's finest. However, the absence of admission standards for Kansas high school graduates helps create many less-than-ideal situations at a university such as KU. One of the most glaring negatives of the Kansas policy is the high number of students who drop out of school, unable to meet academic requirements, and the high percentage of students who fail to obtain their degrees after five years of schooling.

ONLY 46.4 PERCENT of 1982 Kansas University students received their degrees after five years of schooling and the percentage dropped to 41 percent at Kansas State University. Compare this to a 70 percent figure of University of North Carolina students receiving their degrees in five years. UNC is a peer institution of KU.

There are many advantages associated with admission standards. Perhaps the most important is that such standards would force high schools to implement academic programs requiring high school students to take college preparatory courses and by so doing, the students would be much better prepared to successfully handle college courses.

ADMISSION standards would result in entering freshman being much more serious and motivated about their college work; such a policy would cut down on the numbers of students requiring remedial courses; it would elevate the academic level of the entire student body, which in turn would make a school such as KU more attractive to outstanding in-state as well as out-of-state high school seniors; and, it would help attract outstanding faculty. This pays dividends for the university in many ways as academic excellence will be the hallmark of those universities which excell in the years to come.

At a time when taxpayers want the best possible return for their tax dollars, and when "education" takes such a large slice of the tax dollar pie, state taxpayers would be getting a better, more efficient higher education system with qualified admissions.

One of the main objections to qualified admission standards is that some suggest KU would be trying to position itself as an elite school within the regents organization. One way to solve this problem would be to start off with an admissions requirement policy for all of the state's schools. It is likely some of the regents institutions would drop admission standards within a year or so, while a university such as KU would want to keep the standards, perhaps even raise admissions requirements.

THE MISSION of a university should be to stimulate the thinking of students and faculty and provide a good education for young men and women so they can become productive members of society upon their graduation and subsequent careers. As noted above, Kansas' record in higher education is fine, but just because a system may have seemed appropriate 25, 50 or 75 years ago is no reason to suggest it should not be flexible and/or changed to meet current requirements.

The danger of no admissions standards for Kansas high school graduates is that KU and other schools will fail to keep pace with other major universities and Kansas will start to accept mediocrity in their higher education system. There is no justification to accept mediocrity, reduce academic competitiveness or to downplay excellence.

THERE ARE bound to be some objections when the regents or some legislator suggests the state approve a qualified admissions plan for the regents schools. Many arguments will be used, some of a serious nature and others designed merely to cloud and confuse the issue. Some will try to suggest a racial bias and others will claim athletes would be given special consideration at the expense of other applicants. A great deal is heard about "late bloomers" and under one plan being considered by those in the regents office, there would be an "exceptions" policy whereby perhaps as many as 10 to 15 percent of an entering freshman class would be qualified for admissions under special conditions. This is where the "late bloomers" might be admitted.

A sound, qualified admissions program probably would result in greater numbers of high school graduates, those who may not have done as well as they would have liked in their school work and who want to attend a regents institution, to enroll in one of the state's better community junior colleges to sharpen their academic skills in order to enter a school such as KU.

One qualified admissions plan being considered for Kansas regents schools would require high school graduates to have achieved one of the following in their high school academic program: Completed the fifteen units of college preparatory curriculum with a grade point average of 2.00; or have a composite ACT score of 23 or higher; or rank in the top one-third of their high school class after seven or eight semesters. Many states have much tougher admissions requirements.

A KANSAS admissions plan would benefit KU with higher quality students, higher quality faculty, increased national recognition, added research monies, possibly a slight increase in enrollment, and a higher percentage of students receiving their degrees with the likelihood they would be better prepared for their post-college years. An extra but important benefit would be that state taxpayers would be getting an even better return for their tax dollars.

It won't be long before news reports from Topeka announce proposals for qualified admissions requirements for at least some, if not all regents schools. Those who are interested and concerned for the continued development of KU as a truly outstanding state university and those who believe in excellence as opposed to mediocrity should support some kind of a reasonable qualified admissions plan.

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