F, King Alexander 101518

LSU President F. King Alexander told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, that changes in the university's admissions standards has helped shape the most diverse, highest achieving freshman class in school history.

LSU President F. King Alexander said Monday the board that oversees all public colleges in Louisiana doesn’t have the authority to punish the university for admitting too many freshmen who failed to meet the “minimum admission standards for first-time students.”

Taking away some of the state’s higher education appropriations – the Board of Regents decides how much each university is to receive – was a floated as a possible penalty for four-year colleges that admitted too students by exception.

“I don’t think they have the authority to do that,” Alexander said of the Regents. “Nor do I think they should.”

He likened the Regents’ exception policy to “recommendations” that need to be discussed rather than rules that can’t be broken.

Alexander spoke to the Press Club of Baton Rouge about LSU’s recent embrace of “holistic admissions,” which relaxes the need for minimum ACT scores.

Commissioner for Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said the policy when enacted in 2001 included specific actions for high schoolers to take and provided resources for institutions. She called the Regents admissions standards “binding policy,” not recommendations.

“I don’t think, and I don’t think the members of the Board of Regents think that compliance with the board is optional,” Reed told The Advocate during an interview later in the day. “I don’t think the Board of Regents has policies that it can’t enforce.”

That said, Reed added, higher education in Louisiana needs to have a conversation about admissions standards and student performance.

Regents first want a better handle on how many students were admitted by exception and last month launched an investigation into the qualifications of this year’s freshmen class at all 14 public four-year universities. The audit is first looking at compliance to the Regents' rules.

“The bigger question is the impact question,” Reed said. Are the students admitted by exceptions performing well? Do the set admission standards make college less accessible for different types of students?

“We need to know whether these are the right standards for students,” Reed said.

In setting the criteria in 2001, the Regents allowed universities some flexibility in admitting students – 4 percent for LSU, 6 or 8 percent for others – who don’t meet the admission standards.

Alexander wrote Reed late last month that 7.5 percent of LSU’s entering class of 5,803 freshmen failed to meet the Regents’ standards, which for LSU means 3.0 grade point average, a 22 on the ACT college board test, and successful completion of 19 credits of core curriculum, such as math, science and other courses required to be taken in high school.

LSU received about 26,000 applications for the Fall 2018 class and about 3,500 were reviewed because their academic record fell outside the parameters that last year would have led to a rejection, Alexander said.

“We took a closer look at a lot of kids that deserved a little bit closer look,” Alexander said.

LSU flagged 433 freshmen of having been admitted under various exceptions. About 195 of the exceptions averaged a 21.3 on the ACT and had a grade point average of 2.9. The Regents’ rules would have LSU summarily reject all but 4 percent, or 232, of those 433 applications.

“The question is how valid are those percentages. And where did they come from?” Alexander said.

Alexander points out that the admitted class, overall, has the highest-grade-point averages and tied with the highest college board test scores in the university’s history. He added that just because the accepted students who didn’t meet the Regents’ standards were admitted, doesn’t mean the students aren’t well qualified.

LSU recently adopted admission standards that looks beyond set-in-stone test scores and grade point averages. Where once students without a high enough grade point average or college board test score would have been summarily rejected – or asked to appeal the decision – LSU will now look at other factors to decide.

The move has caused much controversy in some quarters, including critics who claim the state’s flagship university is letting in unqualified students. Alexander said the more comprehensive look – called holistic admissions – has been adopted by most of the major universities in the country.

“We chose students most likely to succeed at LSU,” Alexander said.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.