What changes in university admission standards could mean for Kansas students and schools

What changes in university admission standards could mean for Kansas students and schools

The Kansas State Board of Regents has approved the biggest changes for admission to Kansas state universities in years, if not decades. The change could expand opportunity and flexibility, but without attention could also result in more students struggling to succeed in college.

From the first part of the 20th century until the mid-1990s, Kansas law provided “open admissions” for all state universities. Any student who graduated from an accredited Kansas high school was entitled to admission to the freshman class at the University of Kansas, Kansas State, Wichita State, Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State Universities.

State and national concerns over educational standards and student achievement, embodied in the 1983 “Nation At Risk” Report, resulted in both an increase in high school graduation requirements and a change in state law setting “qualified admissions” standards for the universities. There were two major components: Students would have to score at a certain level on the ACT or SAT test OR rank in the top third of their graduating class; AND would have to complete a “college prep” curriculum based on specific courses in core areas.

Qualified admissions was controversial. KASB and other groups opposed the change, concerned some students who may not have met qualifications could still succeed in college, and the impact might fall disproportionately on disadvantaged, often minority students or those from small schools; students who might lack the support in high school to meet the new standards.

Those concerns were at least partly abated. College completion has continued to rise in Kansas and increase even faster among minority groups. That might mean the standards worked as supporters hoped: Rather than discouraging or blocking attendance, more students prepared themselves better for college, and more competed degrees. However, balance continues to be an issue. Is it better to allow more students a chance to try college, even knowing some percentage probably won’t be able to handle the academic, social and financial demands; or better to set a higher bar to admission, hoping more students will prepare themselves in high school and a higher percentage will actually graduate?

The changes adopted in September by the Regents represent a swing of the pendulum back toward more opportunity. First, the new policies switch the alternative to a minimum ACT score from ranking in the top third of the graduating class to a cumulative grade point average of 2.25 at ESU, FHSU, PSU and WSU and 3.25 GPA for Kansas State. (KU already uses a GPA requirement rather than class rank) This change alone will widen access. Regents staff indicates that about 87 percent of Kansas high school graduates would meet the 2.25 GPA average, and 46 percent would meet the 3.25 average. Both provide more opportunity than the current top-third class rank.

Second, the new policy removes the requirement to successfully complete a specified college prep curriculum in high school. Students will still have to meet the Kansas State Board of Education’s high school graduation requirements, which are similar in the number of required units in core subjects, but qualified admissions requirements are more specific as to which English, math, natural and social science courses and electives are required. (Local school boards can set additional requirements for graduation.)

KASB did not take a position on the change, but here are some likely implications.

More opportunity. As noted, the changes will increase the number high school graduates eligible to attend state universities, which could help increase postsecondary attainment – a goal of the State Board and Board of Regents. Notably, the proposal originated with the Regents’ First Generation Task Force, studying ways to removed barriers to college attendance.

Less paperwork. The new policy will eliminate the need to track courses students take in high school for college admission purposes (in Kansas, anyway).

More flexibility for school redesign. Kansas schools are exploring ways to restructure how they deliver learning, to make education more individualized, more relevant and more rooted in real world experience and application. Removing requirements for specific courses for college-bound students could help – if the new system also provides students skills to succeed in college.

More flexibility for students. High school students may be able to choose among more options for courses and credit – again providing they still acquire the academic (and social-emotional) skills to be successful in college if that is their path.

Individual Plans of Study. Removing the guidance provided by a college prep curriculum will put even more importance on the State Board’s goal that all students have a meaningful IPS developed by the student, family and school, setting out how high school choices will support career goals involving academic programs, technical credentials and workplace skills.

Role of local school boards. Local boards and school leaders will have to pay greater attention to how they are preparing students as new policies take effect, through measures like ACT scores and the postsecondary effective rate, and grading policies and standards.

Background:

Changes in qualified admissions, pages 45-50 of Board of Regents September agenda.

Current Regents Qualified Admissions standards.

Current Kansas high school graduation requirements.