Raise the floor

Published 7:39 am Monday, October 22, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer.)
Here’s a pop quiz: Do North Carolina’s public universities have minimum entrance standards for freshmen? If you said yes, you’d be only half right. Not all campuses are so discriminating. That means unprepared students waste their time and our tax dollars enrolling, then flunking out.
That’s not fair to kids or taxpayers. A new proposal by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors sets minimum standards and raises them over five years. It’s long overdue.
Each of North Carolina’s 16 campuses has the flexibility to set freshmen admission standards as high as it wishes. That shouldn’t change. Yet some campuses, such as N.C. A&T in Greensboro, set standards low in order to accept struggling students who show potential.
The result? A substantial number of the freshmen who enroll each year either do not return or do not graduate in a reasonable period of time (38 percent graduate in six years at A&T compared to the system average of 59 percent.) That needs to change.
The proposed standards are modest. Beginning in fall of 2009, the UNC system would require students to have a 2.0 grade point average and a score of 700 on the SAT to be admitted. That standard would get tougher each year until 2013, when a 2.5 GPA and an 800 on the SAT would be required.
The impact is also modest. Of nearly 30,000 freshmen last fall across the system, UNC data show only 35 students had grades and scores lower than the proposed 2009 standards. UNC estimates some 675 UNC students last year would not have met the tougher 2013 standards.
Setting minimum admission standards is the right thing to do. Yet it raises tricky questions.
Should a state where tax dollars fund much of the cost of public universities restrict access?
Should campuses founded to serve African-American students when options for their education were limited say no to minority students now? (Note: The new standards will disproportionately affect students at the state’s historically minority campuses: Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, N.C. A&T, N.C. Central, Winston-Salem State and UNC Pembroke.)
Should campuses that serve regions with large numbers of first-generation college students have a cut-off for enrollment?
In each case, yes. Evidence nationwide shows when admission standards are raised, students meet the new standard. That’s the kind of example public universities must set.
Two important notes: Admissions changes will be meaningless unless universities work hand-in-hand with public schools. And universities must help community colleges get funding to assist students who are affected — and who are likely to enroll on those campuses.
Yet the Board of Governors ought to give this proposal a quick, decisive nod. Accepting kids who are unprepared for college wastes everyone’s time and money.