The Louisiana Board of Regents must halt Louisiana State University’s quest to enrich itself, wasting taxpayer dollars and lowering academic standards.
Recently, LSU made public a decision for its Baton Rouge campus to implement “holistic admissions.” This means it no longer will require a minimum standardized test score, currently pegged at 22 on the American College Test, for most applicants. Starting next year, it will consider those with lower scores and ask for other information like essays and recommendations.
This upsets the Board of Regents’ strategy of stratifying higher education institutions into levels of student ability. LSU singularly occupies the flagship level, with the intent that less intellectually prepared students attend other campuses with instructional outreach more geared to elevating their abilities.
Yet citing a loophole to Regents’ rules, LSU now wishes to compete for those other students. It seems poised to swipe many applicants qualifying for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students that in the past wouldn’t have met the minimum score for LSU admission, higher than the ACT of 20 for TOPS. Since the students will pay little more to attend LSU than elsewhere, the additional extracurricular activities and amenities there can draw them in.
In turn, this will increase taxpayer costs because LSU has the highest tuition rates and TOPS subsidizes most costs. With LSU having the highest state subsidy per student, more undergraduates will take more from the pot of state general fund dollars, beggaring other universities or programs dependent on that money.
Worse, taxpayers will not see an increased return on their greater investment. Disproportionately compared to others, the less-prepared students admitted will squander resources by not completing their degrees at LSU, either through flunking out and not finishing college, or in transferring to schools that they should have attended in the first place that would have cost them and taxpayers less. Consequently, LSU will start lowering classroom standards to retain these students, poorly serving all its students and the public.
Supporters try to defend LSU’s position by claiming standardized testing doesn’t forecast student success, and it doesn’t assess well those with learning disabilities or who have testing phobia. Applicants who take preparation courses are said to have an unfair advantage while test-takers from lower-income households, disproportionately from racial minorities, face a disadvantage. Research refutes most of these claims.
In reality, standardized college entrance exams combined with grade-point average produce the best predictor of student success. With grade inflation in high schools — almost half of 2016 high school seniors nationally earned an “A” average, close to the recent LSU incoming freshman mean of 3.53 — it is harder to draw meaningful distinctions among students. More than ever a reasonable minimum ACT score can identify students less likely to fare well at LSU.
Studies also show that test preparation classes do no more to improve a score than does retaking the exam, and that accommodations for special-tested students can help to compensate partially for some learning disabilities. Additionally, test-takers have plenty of simple strategies available to overcome anxiety. If a lack of household resources holds back a student from developing intellectually, leading to a lower ACT score, other state universities remain available and perhaps better-equipped to assist such reasonably bright, hardworking students blossom academically.
While the holistic concept may make sense for selective colleges, with a 76 percent acceptance rate LSU doesn’t fit the bill. Simply, this is a money grab that would affect negatively taxpayers, other state universities, and some students. The Board of Regents should promulgate rules to prevent this, and if LSU disputes those powers, the Legislature must give the Regents the means to block holistic admissions.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter. @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.