There’s a certain amount of irony in new requirements approved by the Kansas Legislature in an effort to improve student retention and graduation rates at state universities.
The bill forwarded to the governor lowers from 10 percent to 5 percent the portion of students who can be admitted to the state’s three largest universities through the “exception window” for students who don’t meet normal admissions requirements. The bill also requires universities to put together individual plans for those students to help ensure they will succeed academically. The irony comes in with the bill’s provision that prohibits state funds from being used to provide any remedial courses for those students or any other students at the state’s six universities. Legislators want universities to give students the help they need, but they don’t want the state to pay for it.
After some negotiation, legislators did make important exceptions to the funding rule. For instance, state funding for remedial classes would be allowed for students in the military, those who are 21 or older and international students who need help with English.
Although it’s easy to understand legislators’ frustration with the fact that some university freshmen still need a remedial math or English class, eliminating funding for those classes limits universities’ options as they seek to make students successful. Unless the universities want, and are able, to find alternative funding for remedial classes, they could be forced to simply reject otherwise-qualified students. It’s just a bit of legislative micromanagement that may make it more difficult for universities to achieve the student-success goal.
Nonetheless, the overall goal of the legislation is mostly positive. House Speaker Mike O’Neal said he sponsored the original bill because he believed students who need remedial course work would be better served by attending a community college rather than risking failure at a state university. That philosophy, as well as the bill’s provision for individual student-success plans, fits well with Kansas University’s proposed new admissions policy, which would raise the standards for automatic admission and connect many students with support services.
The legislation also has the subtle effect of placing more pressure on Kansas high schools to make sure their graduates who want to attend college are academically prepared to do so. High schools should play an active role in directing students to the right institution — university, community college, vocational school — that best suits their talents and their academic goals.
One additional irony in the Legislature’s action is the desire of lawmakers to assert specific control over universities at the same time that the percentage of university budgets covered by state funding has dropped so dramatically. Considering that, in the current fiscal year, only about 22 percent of KU’s budget is covered by state funds, the fact that none of those funds can be used for remedial classes may not be as significant as it once would have been.