APPEL: Giving The Advocate Due Credit On Admissions Standards

It hurts me to say this, but I must compliment The Advocate on its editorial concerning university admissions standards. They hit it out of the park on this one.

The background is this, so let me oversimplify for a moment. Many years ago, Louisiana undertook a bold move when it established a hierarchy for our higher education institutions. The vo-tech and community colleges were merged under one Board, then the all institutions were placed into specific tiers; flagship (LSU), research (ULL, UNO, LaTech), and regional (all others). Each of these tiers was required to have different admission standards, but all had some standards, and these have been ratcheted up over the years. Boldly, all remediation of under-prepared students was delegated to the community college system and not allowed at any four-year institution. Ever since this strategy came into being it has been picked apart and watered down by political interests.

There is a fatal flaw in this model, and it is that we still maintained five boards, actually silos of self-interest, that govern higher education (Regents, LSU, UL, Southern, and LCTCS). The problem with all these silos is that they all have political constituencies and instead of over-arching control as was intended, Regents has limited real control. As a Senator, I tried three times to create a single Board of Higher Education. Likewise, I was the only legislator ever to attempt to shut down a failing campus. In 2010, I created a plan to create a new unified university system in the New Orleans region. This would have merged UNO, Southern-New Orleans (SUNO), and Delgado into a new model university that was tailored to meet the needs of both the prepared and the under-prepared college student. But as is so often the case in Louisiana, in all four instances logic was overpowered by politics and so grownups benefit as our students suffer.

The problem that The Advocate tackled was another related issue that a year ago I wrote about. It was announced then that LSU had adopted a Politically Correct policy that follows the PC madness that is running a muck in our nation. LSU had adopted the principle that admission standards based upon ACT scores is discriminatory and that some form of measurement based upon a combination of metrics, with much lesser weight on the ACT, is fairer.

The problem is that unlike PC La La Land, life isn’t fair. In the real world we are all measured by our intelligence. Hard work in many cases can overcome a deficit in natural intelligence but is not measurable in a large population of prospective students. The PC answer adopted by LSU included the use of grade point averages from high school as a partial substitute for the ACT, a test which measures academic preparation. The problem is that all high schools are not equal and a student from a failing high school who has a high GPA is not necessarily comparable to a student from a successful high school who has a lower GPA. Apples to oranges.

In the real world we are evaluated by strict metrics that are comparable to our peers; be they our ability to perform a task, our ability to comprehend instructions, or our ability to use logic to achieve success. The LSU plan follows the same PC notion that all kids on an athletic team should get the same trophy, even those who didn’t have the skills to be great. That’s just not how life works, and it takes away the incentive to work hard.

LSU’s plan would eliminate the simple measurement of academic intelligence in favor of some definition of fairness. Their practice violates the strategy that was set into place years ago when LSU was set atop of our tiers of institutions as our state’s flagship and when we required correspondingly higher admission standards. It also penalizes all the other students, as an under-prepared student will lower the bar for all the better-prepared students.

I understand that hard work may be able to overcome one’s academic preparation, but all students have had the same opportunity through high school to work hard and achieve higher scores on the ACT. For many reasons some just don’t. I also understand that many of our high schools are low performing and penalize students that may have the ambition to work hard. That is why in my political career for K-12 education I placed so much importance on three education principles; high standards, accountability, and parental choice.

But a student’s inability to achieve in high school must not hinder other students who are prepared, and LSU is not the place to provide remediation for students who may not have been prepared through their high school career. We have many community colleges that are designed to do that job. I personally sponsored successful legislation that allowed for the transfer of credits from community colleges on to our four year schools. This provides that students who are initially under-prepared as measured by academic standards can take advantage of getting the preparation that they didn’t get in high school and not lose as much time to a degree for it.

For the good of the whole student population we set up the tier system of universities, and we established more rigid admission standards as one moved up the tiers of schools. The long-term answer is not to lower admission requirements, it is to re-double our push for those three education goals; high standards, accountability, and parental choice. Only achieving better outcomes from our K-12 schools will solve the fairness issue. In the meantime, we must not just follow along with the national PC crowd and allow LSU to water down their admission standards. LSU is our academic flagship and must be held to a higher standard than our other institutions.

If we are really concerned about fairness, it is way past time to look at the quality of many of our lower tier institutions. It’s great to have good sports teams, but universities are for learning and in an unfair world, learning is a metric driven outcome. We have far too many schools that hand out diplomas that are not necessarily backed up by superior learning outcomes. That is one of the most unfair things that I can think of.



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