On the surface, the Kansas Board of Regents request that Kansas University change its student admissions standards sounds easy enough: Raise your admissions standards and you’ll get better students, retain more students, graduate more students and help preserve KU’s membership in the prestigious American Association of Universities.
In reality, the task facing KU officials is more complicated and difficult.
What the regents want KU to do is come up with an admissions policy that doesn’t necessarily restrict access to the university, but focuses on higher retention and graduation rates and keeps more academically talented Kansas students in the state. While doing this, KU has to figure out how to avoid further enrollment declines and try not to aggravate its reputation as the “snob hill” university in the state.
Lurking in the background will be the goal of solidifying KU’s position as a member of the AAU, which ousted the University of Nebraska this year and accepted the resignation of Syracuse University after informing the school a committee review likely would show Syracuse no longer met the group’s criteria.
But, hey, KU, no pressure.
The regents seem to be coming around to the idea that the six state universities can serve different missions in the state’s higher education system. The message last week was that the regents are willing for KU to distinguish itself from other state universities by setting different standards that enhance its national reputation as a comprehensive research university.
Providing access to higher education is a high priority in Kansas, but as Regents Chairman Ed McKechnie noted, “I’ve come to realize that the most important thing is for a kid to have access to a regents university as opposed to all universities.”
The state’s six universities all have the same admissions requirements for Kansas high school graduates, but the demands placed on students at those six universities vary. For some students, attending one of the state’s smaller universities or starting their post-secondary careers at a community college may be a better choice than jumping into work at KU, but setting standards and selecting students who can be successful at KU without “restricting access” can be a tricky business.
Having an AAU university in Kansas is an important asset for the state, and the Board of Regents is right to place a high priority on maintaining KU’s membership in that group. Revised admissions standards may be an important part of that goal, but coming up with the right policy will be a challenge for KU officials.