Larry Tremblay of the Board of Regents 011419

Larry Tremblay presents Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, a report on performance of students admitted into state universities without meeting the minimum standards. Tremblay, who is the Regents Deputy Commissioner for Planning, Research & Academic Affairs, headed the team that produced the report for the Louisiana Board of Regents.

In a first look at college freshmen admitted without meeting minimum standards, the Board of Regents found Monday that students enrolled by “exception” had lower grades, were more likely to leave early and didn’t graduate at the same rate as those who met the criteria.

The survey also found that athletes admitted by exception did better academically.

Looking at students admitted in the Fall of 2016 and 2017, the Regents determined that 2,315 freshmen failed to meet one of the minimum admissions criteria set by the Regents. The grade point averages for those students, which averaged 2.0, lagged behind the 41,580 students who met the minimum standards and ended the first term with an average 2.7 percent.

About two-thirds of those admitted by exception in 2016 returned for classes in 2017, compared to 82 percent of the regular admitted students. And 32 percent of the exception students from 2010 and 2011 graduated in six years while half of the regular admitted students did, according to the report.

“It’s critical that we understand the characteristics of students admitted by exception, but more importantly, how they perform,” Regents Chairman Marty Chabert said. “We do a disservice to students if we do not place them in the best environment to succeed. However, sometimes life events make it difficult for our incoming freshman to meet all the requirements.”

Chabert said this study was the first step in an investigation to see if the state’s public universities are following the Regents admission rules and whether changes to the standards need to be considered. The 16-member board oversees policies for all 14 of the state’s public four-universities.

“We’re going to do whatever we do when we have the data in hand,” Chabert said in an interview after the Regents met Monday.

The report was requested by a state Senate resolution and was spurred by the revelation that LSU was no longer rejecting applications of students who failed to meet a minimum score on college board tests, such as the ACT.

In the controversy that ensued, LSU President F. King Alexander reported that the flagship campus in Baton Rouge had admitted almost twice as many exception students as allowed by the Regents. In setting the criteria in 2001, the Regents allowed universities some flexibility in admitting students who don’t meet the standards: 4 percent for LSU; 6 percent for state universities, like University of New Orleans and the University of Louisiana in Lafayette; and 8 percent for regional institutions like Southern University and Southeastern Louisiana University.

Critics claimed LSU is letting in unqualified students. Alexander countered that a more comprehensive look – called holistic admissions – that relies on essays and a look at the student’s life has been adopted by most of the major universities in the country.

LSU admitted the most students on exception, with 577 in 2016 and 2017 – more than the 524 enrolled by the three statewide universities, according to the Regents report.

About 75 percent of the students admitted by exception did not meet the minimum ACT composite score and 43 percent did not meet the minimum grade point average.

Each of level – flagship, statewide and regional universities – have their own admissions standards. LSU is supposed to admit only students who scored at least a 25 on the ACT, which has a top score of 36, or a grade point average above 3.0 on a scale of 4. Freshmen enrolled at the statewide universities need to score at least 23 on the ACT or have a 2.5 GPA in core courses. The Regents standards for regional universities is a 20 on the ACT and a 2.0 GPA.

The standards also require a minimum ACT score on the English and Math sections plus successful completion of 19 units from a core curriculum that includes English, math and science.

While this first report looked only at students who were enrolled without meeting the minimum ACT or grade point averages, the only sure exceptions were the 770, or 33 percent, who didn’t complete the core curriculum in high school. Deputy Commissioner Larry Tremblay, whose department conducted the analysis, said the second stage will drill down further to determine what roles the ACT scores and GPAs played in admitting students on exception.

Tremblay’s personal observation was that report showed that high school preparation was the best predicter of performance on the college level. But one role of the state’s public universities is to provide education to populations that have historically had less access to higher education.

The findings for the athletes admitted with exceptions to the Regents minimum admission standards underscored the need for the university to support those students. The institutions routinely provide tutoring, study halls and other services to ensure the athletes remain academically eligible, said Regent Collis Temple III, who played basketball for LSU from 1999 to 2002.

Athletes who didn’t meet the admission standards finished their first term with 2.4 grade point averages and 81 percent returned the following year, according to the study.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.