Friday, we held a forum on Automatic Admission Standards at UHD. This is a somewhat controversial issue because UHD has historically been an Open Admission institution. The forum provided the campus community with an opportunity to hear various speakers and proposals on the subject. It offered a broader context to the issues taking place in the state and throughout the nation.
It is important to point out that whatever automatic admissions standards are established, the majority of applicants will still be admitted to UHD, but through a process of review of other factors in their file. The small portion of students who are not admitted would be referred to nearby community colleges under a dual enrollment program, so that they could return to UHD as soon as they soon as they complete any deficiencies or requisites, or after completing an AA degree.
Dr. Steve Murdoch, a demographer, demonstrated convincingly that the Harris County population and Texas population is rapidly becoming majority Hispanic. Hispanics and African Americans are less likely to graduate from high school, and when they do, they are more likely to need remediation. They are also less likely to graduate from college within six years of graduation from high school.
High school graduates and college graduate earn significantly more money than those who do not finish high school or college. They buy homes, raise their families, pay more taxes, and make significant contributions to our society. Dr. Murdoch noted that over their life-times college graduates earn roughly a million dollars more than those who do not graduate from college.
Dr. Murdoch then made the point that without dramatic efforts to close the educational achievement gap, in twenty years or so Texas could face a $300 billion loss in earnings, tax revenue, and GDP. So, it is in everyone's interest to improve Hispanic and African American graduation rates.
Later, Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes stated that "access without preparation is not opportunity." He argued that admissions standards are essential to communicate to middle school and high school students that they need to adequately prepare for college by taking the right courses and getting good grades.
Dr. Paredes said that the legislature will likely adopt policies to link higher education funding to graduation rates. In addition, Texas Guarantee scholarships are likely to become Need plus Merit, with requirements for GPA and class rank to qualify. He is also recommending that the incentives for increasing students who graduate, particularly in high need areas like STEM, be built into base. This would help UHD, which graduates a high proportion of STEM students through the Scholars Academy and has been recognized as a Star Performer by the Coordinating Board.
In the afternoon presentations were made by Ed Apodaca, VP for Student Services and Enrollment Management, and William Waller, chair of the Developmental Education Coordinating Council. Both recommended admissions standards. While there were some variation in their recommendations, most participants felt setting standards are essential for several reasons:
First, almost every public four-year university in Texas now has admission standards for entering freshmen. The exceptions are UHD and the University of Texas, Brownsville.
It may have made sense for UHD to be open admissions years ago, because many institutions in Texas were open admission. But, UHD's six-year graduation rate for FTIC (full-time, first-time freshmen)is 15%--or about 21% when you include students who start at UHD, who transfer and graduate from another public university. Most of our peers have graduation rates of twice that of UHD. So, it makes sense to keep pace with our peers.
And, adopting admission standards does have an impact on graduation rates. UTEP which was once open admissions, now has a combined six-year graduation rate of 32%. Prairie View A & M has raised its rates to 41%!
Second, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the federal government, and most reporting systems monitor six-year graduation rates. This hurts UHD, as it gives the impression that UHD does a poor job of graduating students. The fact is that only 25% of all new entering students each year are first-time, full-time freshmen. Most of our students are transfers from community colleges and other four-year institutions.
Third, federal guidelines now tie financial aid to "ability to benefit" and require that institutions pay-back federal financial aid dollars of students who do not make adequate progress, accumulate too many "F's" drops and withdrawals, or dropout of college without graduating.
Fourth, our students tell us that they are embarrassed that UHD has no admission standards. It gives the impression that UHD will admit anyone and doesn't portray UHD as the high-quality institution it has become.
Finally, and most importantly, students that are inadequately prepared have to take too many remedial courses and are likely to dropout. Currently, UHD loses two-thirds of its FTIC students by the end of the second year. Many of the students leave having accumulated students loans on average of about $11,000. They would have been better served at a community college, where they would have paid lower tuition and incurred fewer debts.
As Student Government president, Laura Sanchez explained, "Setting admissions standards is important. Students want to have pride in the institution where they graduate. Sadly, many don't right now--even though it's a great school."
Michelle Moosally, chair of the Faculty Senate, made the point at the close of the forum that setting admissions standards is only a small part of the bigger solution. I underscored that point, stating, "We can't just set admissions standards and think we have solved the problem. We have to implement campus-wide efforts to help retain and graduate students."
Over the next few months the discussions will continue as faculty, staff, and students review the proposals and, particularly, as faculty committees make recommendations as to the final standards to be proposed to the Regents and the Coordinating Board.
The discussion has begun. There is a long road ahead. But, everyone feels confident that UHD will be a stronger institution as we make these changes.