There are strong arguments in favor of increasing admissions requirements for Kansas students who want to attend state universities, but the Kansas Board of Regents is right to give careful consideration to any admissions changes.
The regents plan to discuss increased requirements at their Dec. 16 meeting and again in January. The proposal before them would significantly raise admissions requirements for Kansas high school graduates, who currently must be admitted to a state university if they meet one of three standards: completion of a specified pre-college curriculum, an ACT score of 21 or higher or a ranking in the top-third of their high school class.
Under the new plan students would have to rank in the top third of their class or get a qualifying score on either the ACT or SAT college admissions test in addition to completing a pre-college curriculum with at least a 2.0 grade average.
State higher education officials fought for years before gaining legislative approval for the current admissions standards in 1996. Before that, state universities had to admit any graduate of an accredited Kansas high school regardless of his or her academic standing or test scores. The new admissions standards were written into state statute, but last year, legislation was passed giving the Board of Regents the authority to set more stringent standards.
Now, it appears the regents are ready to use that authority.
There was an appealing populist argument in favor of the old “open admissions” policy. The theory was that everyone deserved a chance to make the grade at a taxpayer-supported university. However, that argument started to fall away as state support for higher education declined and universities found it necessary to tighten their belts. Students who aren’t prepared for university work are a financial drain on the universities as well as their families. It serves no one for either universities or students and families to expend precious resources on a university career that almost certainly will end in failure.
In addition to the proposed standards being considered by the regents, individual universities also are allowed to propose even higher admissions standards for their own schools. Kansas University is expected to make such a request.
There is a danger, of course, that state universities will overreach on this concept, but it was noted when the state gave the regents authority to increase admissions standards that public sentiment on the issue would rein in higher education if it went too far afield.
Kansas students still deserve a chance at a university education, and the state has many fine community colleges with open admissions policies that can help students prepare for university work. Using community colleges as a feeder system for four-year institutions is a positive use of state and student resources.
The proposed new admissions requirements might actually push Kansas high schools to produce more students who are prepared for university work. That would be great, but, in today’s financial climate, state universities can no longer afford to be the place that ill-prepared students either catch up or drop out.