Moving clearly behind university administrators, LSU’s governing body endorsed Thursday a unilateral decision to change admission standards in a way that relaxes a generation-old requirement that applicants surpass a minimum score on college board tests, such as the ACT.
LSU Board of Supervisors Chairman James M. Williams insisted the resolution was not a direct response to the state Board of Regents, which last week launched an investigation into how often colleges are straying from the minimum admissions standards. Rather, he said, the leaders of LSU merely wanted to affirm a change that staff quietly began to put into effect last year.
“This wasn’t a reaction to the Regents,” said Williams, a Metairie lawyer. “We had always planned to evaluate it once we had all that data in.”
After more than a century of admitting any Louisiana resident with a high school diploma, the board voted in 1985 to make a minimum college board test score a prerequisite for having an application considered. LSU staff, without input from the university’s governing board, relaxed those rigid admission standards.
Critics slammed university administrators, saying that lowering the standards was aimed at putting more tuition-paying students in LSU classrooms — at the expense of the state’s other four-year universities — and could endanger the university’s flagship status. Some had even hoped the supervisors would rein in LSU President F. King Alexander and his staff by returning the admissions process to how it has been for more than 30 years.
That’s not happening. In fact, the Board also unanimously increased Alexander’s $610,666 salary by 3 percent and extended his contract until July 1, 2023.
“To move from a rigid admissions process to a comprehensive admissions process, all we’re doing is looking at a variety of factors instead of just one,” Williams said, adding that the broader review hasn’t translated to admitting less qualified students.
Incoming freshmen who arrived for class last month had an average ACT score of nearly 25.5 on a scale of 14-36 and a 3.53 grade point average on scale of 0 to 4.0 — tied for the highest achieving entering class in LSU history.
The new admissions process leans harder on essays and recommendations than on ACT scores and grade point averages. Test scores and grades are still important, but admissions officers now will evaluate transcripts not just for a flat GPA, but for whether the applicant took more rigorous courses, and if given a choice of courses, whether the student took the harder route. LSU also is looking for whether grades improved over a high school career and what life events, like the 2016 floods or family crisis, took a toll on academic performance.
Board member Ronald Anderson, who is president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, said the new process addresses a problem many rural students had brought up to him over the years — that the lack of resources in their communities worked against them entering LSU because of the set-in-stone admissions requirements.
A lot of smart students who failed to enter LSU because of a test score went on to success at other colleges, said Board member R. Blake Chatelain, of Alexandria. “It is the right thing to do for our kids,” he added.
“The ability to fully evaluate our applicants will help keep Louisiana’s best students in state,” Alexander said in a prepared statement. “We are pleased that the Board of Supervisors has recognized this comprehensive admission process, along with the modernization we have added to our admissions process, is the best way for LSU to compete on a national stage to attract and identify the best and brightest students.”
LSU set its strict requirements including a minimum ACT score and a minimum grade point average back in 1985. The Board of Regents, which oversees all of higher education, required in 2005 either a set ACT score or a minimum grade point average as part of the requirements for admission in the rest of the state’s public colleges and universities.
But the Board of Regents gave the universities some wiggle room, allowing the schools to admit a small percentage of students who didn’t meet the set criteria. In their audit, the Regents are looking at how many students were admitted without meeting the minimum standards, then deciding what, if any, sanctions should be taken against schools that admitted too many.
The Regents noted that last year LSU flagged 5.1 percent of its entering freshmen as “admit by exception,” which is more than the 4 percent allowed by the Regents. Presumably, that percentage would increase once “holistic admissions” kicks in full gear next academic year.
LSU Board Chairman Williams said he’s not concerned. “We provided our exceptions report in accordance with law and Board of Regents requirements,” he said.