Archive for Monday, December 19, 2011

Policy challenge

Coming up with the right admissions policy to build KU’s stature without limiting access will be a tricky job

December 19, 2011


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.


P Allen Macfarlane 6 years, 6 months ago

'... but setting standards and selecting students who can be successful at KU without “restricting access” can be a tricky business".

I don't understand why this is a problem for universities and colleges that wish to raise standards. It's pretty simple, either the applicant to the school meets the minimum standards or he/she does not. It seems to me that if you want to rise above the crowd and attract more capable students, you really need to have a campus full of those more capable students. Quality does tend to attract quality.

KU_cynic 6 years, 6 months ago

KU loses about one out of every five freshmen to attrition, hence the goal at increasing "retention", which I'm sorry to report translates as "coddling mediocrity" to many KU faculty members.

Many of those un-retained first-year students leave for reasons unrelated to academic preparedness and academic performance -- having a taste of KU and deciding to switch to a smaller school where some friends have started, student- or family-related health or financial problems, and so on.

But a substantial fraction of new students at KU simply are not prepared for college, and they discover this too late and often rudely, creating the 20% 1st-year dropout rate and a six-year graduation rate of only slightly above 60%.

KU needs to commit to a 10- to 12-year plan to raise standards and attract better quality students. I don't think starting with half- and quarter- measures is a good idea, such as raising GPA and ACT standards by a tick or two a year with the hope that 10 years from now the average ACT will be in the upper 20's instead of the mid-20s. Instead, I think KU needs a bold start: high school GPA of 3.00 or higher, ACT score of 24 or higher. Enrollment and tuition revenue may take an immediate hit, but KU will immediately make a big splash across the Midwest as a school that is serious about breaking with its mediocre academic present in order to move to a higher quality future. In a few years Midwest families willing to shell out $50-$60K per year to send students to private schools like Grinnell or Carleton -- or higher reputation public universities such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Iowa -- will start to take notice of a KU with smaller, more attentive classes filled with on-average-smarter kids -- and a virtuous cycle consistent with a strategy to attract talented out-of-state students will begin to take hold.

It won't be easy -- financially or politically -- but what alternative is there?

Michael Rowland 6 years, 6 months ago

So they want to rewrite admissions standards to get better students. At the same time they don't want to lower the number of students admitted, prevent students who aren't all that great from getting in, or be seen as the "snobby" school in Kansas?

Does this look impossible/counter-productive to anyone else? #1: who cares if the school is considered "snobby"? That's the point! You want to be viewed on the same level as other schools with strong student performances! #2: to get better students, you're going to have to prevent admittance of bad students. #3: until the reputation for academics changes, attracting star students will be harder.

Armstrong 6 years, 6 months ago

When you are in competition for the same market and are selling basically the same thing, to gain a competetive advantage you need to build value into your product.

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