After reaching an impasse on new admissions guidelines last week, the Louisiana Board of Regents will try again this week.
The board has called a special meeting for Monday after several members raised concerns about whether the state would be lowering standards and doing a disservice to education in the long run.
The state higher education board sets minimum admissions standards — schools could individually adopt higher standards on their own. Some set their standards higher, and it’s unclear how many would be willing to lower their standards even if the new policy is adopted.
But the state Legislature this year, through bills that seek to either allow schools to opt out of the minimum or set their own ground rules for admissions, has started on a path to possibly removing some of that power from the board.
Last week, the board discussed plans for new minimum admissions standards that would pave the way for more students who require remediation or who have lower ACT scores at schools that choose to accept them.
But the proposal devolved into a fight over whether such action would be an admission that standards are being “lowered” for higher education in Louisiana.
The board decided to meet again on Monday to hash out the discussion — making sure to meet again before the legislative session ends June 11.
Several board members openly acknowledged the time constraint.
“Rather than rush into this for political needs — and that’s what we’re doing — rather than let the legislature dictate to us what policy should be, I firmly believe we should set the policy but only after we’ve had the chance to consider the issues,” said Edward Markle, of New Orleans. “We have an obligation to do things right. I don’t know how we can do anything right when we haven’t had time to review it.”
State Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo, in an interview after the meeting, said there is not an adversarial issue between the board and the Legislature.
“We’re trying to say there are a lot of shades of gray,” he said. “I don’t think the conversation should be that we’re lowering something.”
Under the proposal from the state board staff, students who struggle in one subject and require a developmental or remediation course could be allowed to enroll in their program of study at regional institutions. The state’s historically black universities could accept students who score an 18 on the ACT. Transfer students would have to make at least a “C” in English or math for those credits to count. Currently, there is no requirement, and students 26 and older could enter a university needing one remediation course.
The board staff cites cuts to state higher education funding, dropped enrollment at regional universities and the state’s struggle to meet workforce demands as justification for the changes.
The HBCU component has been removed from discussion, based on the agenda for the Monday meeting. That component has been central to legislative proposals, though.
Larry Tremblay, deputy commissioner for planning, research and academic affairs, told board members to think of the proposal not as a lowering of standards, but providing new pathways for educational attainment.
“I would not put this in the category of lowering standards,” Tremblay said.
But some board members have expressed concern.
“We’re backing off on our admissions criteria,” said Robert Levy, of Dubach.
“We’re talking about changing the standards that affect the lives and futures of our children,” Markle said. “If we’re going to lower standards and we state to our children that ‘We don’t believe you are as good as everyone else,’ we’re doing harm to society and our people.”