BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A month after delaying a decision, Louisiana’s higher education policy-making board voted Wednesday to bolster its minimum admission standards for public universities by adding the threat of financial penalties for campuses that disobey the requirements.
The Board of Regents approved the adjustments to the state’s existing, 15-year-old admissions standards without objection, after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations to get board members comfortable with the changes.
Most of the rewrites were modest. But the penalty provisions represent the first real effort to force compliance with the policy. The board has never penalized schools for not complying with admissions criteria.
Still, financial penalties won’t be automatic for campuses that violate the admissions criteria, and the threat of reduced funding doesn’t come unless a school has breached the policy for two consecutive years. The Board of Regents, which divvies up most state financing for public college campuses through its funding formula, would have vote to strip some dollars from a school.
“Today’s policy improvements retain the Regents’ steadfast commitment to have students admitted where they can be most successful,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in a statement after the vote.
Reed and her staff spent months working on the adjustments to the minimum admissions standards after LSU sparked criticism for breaching the requirements and granting more exceptions than allowed.
When the changes came up in January for review, regents members postponed a decision, saying they wanted more time to comb through the suggested tweaks and hear from Louisiana’s public university system leaders. By Wednesday, members appeared comfortable after adding language that spelled out a regents vote would be required to penalize an institution. LSU said it supported the admissions policy changes.
Louisiana’s public two-year community colleges are open admission. But the Board of Regents first started requiring admissions standards for public four-year universities in 2005, mandating that freshmen meet certain grade point averages, college entrance exam scores or other benchmarks.
The standards — and the percentage of exceptions allowed — vary depending on the type of campus, with LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge having the toughest admissions requirements.
Under the requirements, LSU’s incoming freshmen must have a 3.0 high school GPA or a 25 ACT college entrance exam score, with up to 4% of the enrolling class allowed exceptions. Those provisions remain unchanged in the updated standards, along with the basic admissions criteria that have existed for years for other campuses.
But the rewritten admissions policy specifically allows for cuts to financing for campuses that repeatedly breach the exceptions limit, as the board “deems appropriate.” The rewritten policy declares that “penalties will be graduated in accordance with the degree, repetition and/or systemic nature of the violation,” as determined by the board.
Other changes include new exceptions for non-resident students and certain other students, along with detailed auditing and reporting procedures.
Renewed debate over the standards stemmed from LSU’s decision to rework its own admissions approach for first-time students in the fall 2018 semester. The university’s main campus in Baton Rouge has lessened reliance on standardized test scores and grade point averages, arguing that followed the approach at 80% of the nation’s flagship universities.
In doing so, LSU exceeded the number of exceptions allowed to the admissions standards — drawing criticism that it was diminishing the school’s reputation.
Amid the criticism, then-LSU President F. King Alexander questioned the regents’ ability to penalize his school for violating the admissions standards. Reed disagreed, citing the board’s constitutional authority. Alexander’s comments drew rebuke from Gov. John Bel Edwards.