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Governor John Bel Edwards speaks during a press conference at Orleans Justice Center in New Orleans, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. Governor Edwards announced Justice Reinvestment grants are being distributed to Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

Gov. John Bel Edwards waded into the bickering between higher education officials by reiterating that the Board of Regents have the authority to set and enforce admission standards for public four-year universities.

But, he also wants the officials to review those rules.

In defending LSU’s unilateral change to admissions policies, President F. King Alexander said Monday the Board that governs state public colleges, universities and vocational schools had no authority to punish the university for admitting too many applicants who failed to meet the "minimum admissions standards for first-time students" set by the Board in 2001.

Speaking for the Regents, Commissioner for Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed responded that the 16-member board doesn't make rules they can't enforce.

But before any wrists are slapped, Reed said, the Regents want more information about how many students, unqualified under current rules, were admitted by the state’s 14 four-year universities and how those students are faring. Could be that the admissions criteria needs to be changed, she said.

Regents have set hard requirements but allow universities the flexibility of accepting 4 percent to 6 percent, depending on the institution, of an incoming freshman class who don’t meet the standard. LSU’s freshman class for this academic year included almost twice as many as allowed under the Regents’ exceptions.

LSU quietly started looking beyond set-in-stone test scores and grade point averages. Where once students without a 3.0 GPA and a 22 on the ACT college board test would have been summarily rejected, LSU now looks at other factors to make a decision.

The move has caused much controversy in some quarters who claim the state’s flagship university is letting in unqualified students that could drag down the teaching of the rest.

Alexander, too, wants a conversation among higher ed leaders that would consider whether the admission rules had outlived their usefulness. LSU’s “holistic admissions” policies rely more heavily on essays, recommendations and reviews of course work for students whose grades and college board test scores failed to meet the minimum requirements. Current rules keep out smart students with extenuating circumstances – like having a disability or having their school year disrupted by a flood or a death in the family, Alexander said.

"It was just a process change for us," Alexander said, adding that he doesn't know why LSU officials didn't talk with the Regents about the plans in any depth before implementing the changes.

Edwards said that’s a discussion worth having now.

“If you listen to the explanation for why we should have holistic admissions process, they seem rather genuine and sincere,” the governor wrote The Advocate in an email late Thursday. “You’ve got highly qualified students who may come from a different state, but because their core curriculum is different than ours, they may require an exception. You also have individuals in certain parts of our state who may not have access to a foreign language because they come from a parish that doesn’t offer it in all of their high schools.

“Well, that shouldn’t be a barrier if otherwise that kid is eligible to be at LSU. We also know that there are individuals that go to schools, or we should say come from families, that are going to take the ACT once because they do not have the financial wherewithal to take it multiple times and pay out of their own pocket, and so they may come up a little bit shy. But if their grade point average suggests that they will be successful, and you look at more information around the student, then I think that it would be appropriate to let that student in,” he continued.

Edwards also said these conversations between higher education officials should take place directly and not through reporters.

"It would be much better for the state if you didn't have all this playing out in the media," Edwards said Wednesday on his monthly radio call-in show – his first comments on the brewing controversy. "These conversations need to be taking place between Regents and LSU, and I guess all of the systems. We need to be sitting down and doing this collaboratively and not playing it out in the press."

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.