KU wins changes to admission policy; standardized tests won’t be required, and 2.0 GPA will suffice in some cases

photo by: Associated Press

In this Oct. 24, 2019, file photo, students walk in front of Fraser Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

Soon, incoming freshmen at the University of Kansas won’t have to take a standardized test — like the ACT or SAT — to get admitted to the university.

But those students who do decide to take a test now will have a path to get into KU with a high school grade point average as low as 2.0.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved both changes to KU’s freshman admission policies at a meeting earlier this week. The new admission standards are scheduled to be in place for the freshman class that begins in the spring 2022 semester.

KU leaders asked for the new admission standards after reviewing programs at other universities that “challenged us to think about access and success,” Jean Redeker, assistant vice provost for academic affairs, told the Board of Regents. Redeker said the test-free component of the admission standards would help KU remain competitive nationally, as many schools have dropped the standardized testing requirement after the pandemic made it difficult for many students to take those tests. There also have been growing concerns about whether the tests equitably measure students from all backgrounds.

The admission change comes in two parts:

• Any student with a 3.25 high school GPA can be admitted to KU, regardless of any test score the student has. The student will not be required to have taken the ACT or SAT at all. That’s a change from current policy. Freshmen were required to take either the ACT or SAT, or else seek relief from a special review panel that could waive the requirement.

• Prospective students who take the ACT now only need to score a 21 on that test and have at least a 2.0 GPA in order to be guaranteed admittance at KU. The current policy requires at least a 3.25 GPA for students who score between 21 and 23 on the ACT. Students who score 24 or higher can be admitted with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Sanjay Mishra, president of KU’s University Senate, said he supported the idea that the ACT and SAT should not be required for admittance at KU. But he questioned the other changes to the policy.

“It basically waters down the standards,” Mishra said. “At least, that is how it appears.”

Mishra said he’s concerned the standards may create more “D-F-W” cases — students who produce D’s, F’s, or withdrawals.

But Mishra said he wasn’t speaking for the University Senate as a whole because that group was never asked to provide a recommendation to the administration on whether the admissions policy should be changed. He said that was a disappointment.

“We had zero input into this process,” he said. “We were informed about it, but had no input on it.”

Lua Kamal Yuille, president of KU’s Faculty Senate, expressed some excitement over the changes in admission because they may “open the university to a broad range of students who face economic and social barriers to higher education.” But like Mishra, she too had concerns about the limited role elected faculty representatives had in the process.

“Although I believe the failure to engage shared governance may have been an unintentional oversight, it places strain on building the trusting and collaborative relationship to which faculty leaders are committed,” Kamal Yuille said via email.

The Kansas Board of Regents unanimously approved the changes, but it did question KU officials on whether the new standards could negatively impact graduation or dropout rates.

“We do want to make sure we balance access with success,” Matt Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management, told the board.

He said the university would monitor very closely graduation rates and other metrics. He said the university also needed to enhance its efforts to be involved with all students early in their academic careers to make sure “they get out of the blocks fast in that first year.”

“We have an arsenal of tools that we can probably get a little bit more lift from to assist students in that first year,” Melvin said.

A KU spokeswoman on Friday afternoon said the university proposed the changes with the goal of creating more opportunities for more students, and that university administrators believed the new admission standards would still promote success.

“The focus of our efforts and measures are not based on those we exclude but by those we include and how they succeed,” Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, director of news and media relations, said. “We have continued to evaluate common admission metrics, such as high school grade point average and standardized test scores, to determine how they correlate with retention and graduation outcomes. We believe the recalibrated standards serve to provide access while also ensuring student success.”

Barcomb-Peterson said KU would still encourage incoming students to “take as rigorous high school curriculum as possible” before enrolling at KU.

The changes bring KU in line with other Kansas schools in some ways, but create differences in others. Prior to the change, KU was the only Regents school in Kansas that required an ACT score. The new standard of a 3.25 GPA regardless of ACT score matches the policy in place at Kansas State University.

The standard of a 21 ACT score and a 2.0 GPA is unique to KU. Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Pittsburg State and Wichita State all require a 2.25 GPA but do not require an ACT score.

The changes at KU are the most significant to the admission process since 2012, when KU went in a different direction and successfully lobbied the Kansas Board of Regents to tighten admission standards at KU. Those new standards went into effect in 2016.

The new changes come at a time when KU and other universities are facing enrollment challenges. In fiscal year 2020, KU’s freshman class enrollment was down 7.2% compared to a year earlier, and international freshman student enrollment was down 29.3%, KU documents show. Overall enrollment across all classes was down 2.8% for the year.

But the documents also show KU has had success in keeping freshmen in school. The freshman retention rate — the number of freshmen who come back for a second year of college — was at 85.7% last year. That’s the second highest level on record, falling just short of an 86.2% mark in fall 2019.


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