Gov John Bel Edwards at Regents 021920

Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the Board of Regents on Wednesday, Feb. 19,2020.

The state’s top higher education policymaking board on Wednesday approved a sheaf of new minimum requirements for students seeking admission to Louisiana’s public colleges and universities that gives greater flexibility to admit applicants based on life experiences.

But the new policies also include a hammer aimed at individual schools that, like LSU has done, admits too many students who don’t meet the state standards.

“I was concerned with what brought us to this conversation. I think that the end result is a very solid one,” Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed said in an interview after the Board of Regents unanimously approved the Statewide Minimum Admissions Standards Policy. 

“We wanted to make sure that we had a solid policy, and the expectation that management boards were involved” in deciding who the state’s four-year universities and two-year community colleges would qualify to enroll, Reed said.

“We do have an ‘Oh, by the way’ section that says we will have accountability. We’re going to report, publicly, your exceptions. We want the management boards to be a part of the conversation and if you violate, there are processes in place for the Board to consider in place,” Reed said.

Reed said the new policies account for the “holistic” or “full file” approach, an admissions policy that was at the root of the Regents troubles with LSU. That’s why the rules allow for more exceptions to the hard-minimum grade point averages and standardized test scores. But the policy keeps the Regents overall goal of differentiating between the state’s universities and seeks to enroll students in the colleges where they can be most successful, she said.

The conversation began last year when LSU administrators began using “holistic” admissions to build its freshman class. The administrators didn’t seek permission from their own Board of Supervisors or anyone else before enrolling students who didn’t meet minimum scores for standardized tests like the ACT. Then-LSU President F. King Alexander, who spearheaded the change, argued that the nation’s leading universities were shifting to an admissions policy that relied more essays, grades, recommendations, resumes and other factors that judged the abilities of a prospective student.

The change angered officials at other universities who argued that LSU was cherry picking students who otherwise would have attended another state school, enraged some Regents for cavalierly ignoring theirs standards, and infuriated some of LSU’s biggest donors, who said the holistic admissions policy weakened the university’s effort to become a selective-admissions flagship. Prior to the late 1980s, LSU was open to all and enrolled almost everyone who applied but graduated very few relative to other colleges. Regents in 2005 put into one regulation all the various ad hoc admissions policies.

Alexander responded that the changes were within the vaguely defined policies of exceptions to the Regents rules. And besides, he argued, there was little the Regents could do about it.

In response, Regents audited all four-year universities in August 2018 to measure compliance with the state’s minimum admissions standards. LSU was the only school that exceeded the number of exceptions allowed under the Regents standards, though some campuses didn’t keep the proper paperwork.

The Regents then launched a review of the standards that culminated with Wednesday’s policies.

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Alexander resigned in December to take the president’s position at Oregon State University. Interim LSU President Tom Galligan is fine with the new policy.

“LSU is pleased that the Admissions guidelines continue to provide every public university in the state with the authority to conduct full-file reviews of applicants for admissions based on all relevant aspects of their background and experience, the high school grade point averages, and their standardized test scores,” Galligan said in a statement read to the Board of Regents before the vote.

“We support the admission guidelines and will comply with them,” said Robert Dampf, who will be head of the LSU Board of Supervisors next year.

In general, the Statewide Minimum Admissions Standards Policy kept the previous standards. Those standards require success in a specific high school classes as well as minimum scores on English and math sections of standardized tests. But the key requirements are a minimum grade point average or a minimum ACT score – based on the type of university.

LSU as the flagship, for instance, requires a 3.0 grade point average out of a range that tops out at 4.0 or a 25 ACT score. The top ACT score is 36 and the average score in Louisiana is 19.2 on the standardized college admissions test.

The three four-year colleges categorized as statewide, like the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and University of New Orleans, requires a 2.5 GPA or a 23 on the ACT. The 10 regional schools, such as Southeastern Louisiana University and Southern University, require a 2.0 GPA or 20 ACT.

Students who don’t meet the requirements can be admitted under a limited number of “exceptions” to the admissions minimums. LSU had exceeded the number of allowable “exceptions,” which is what caused the controversy in the first place. The policy, which went into effect immediately upon approval, increased the number of “exceptions” allowed, plus added fines if the schools admit too many “exceptions.”

The Policy also allows students who don’t meet the minimum criteria to make up ground by successfully completely summer school session. The policy defines what is necessary to transfer from one school to another. They give greater details about what was acceptable for foreign and out-of-state applicants and increases the number of exceptions allowed for non-resident applications. Students from other countries and other states pay higher tuition than Louisiana residents and are not eligible to TOPS awards, which are paid for out of the state’s treasury.

The plan also firmed up what was meant by being admitted as an "exception" to the standards and included a graduated penalty schedule for policy violations.

The new rules don’t apply to the LSU situation that started the controversy.

But if they did, LSU could take a $2 million hit over two years subtracted from its $114.9 million allocation of state funding for allowing too many students who didn’t meeting the Regents’ admissions criteria. The third year would have cost LSU an additional $1.2 million.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.