A generation has elapsed since the bruising battles were fought over higher admissions requirements for Louisiana universities. The lessons of those debates may be forgotten if LSU weakens its requirements for freshman admissions.
The latest higher-education fad is “holistic” admissions that don’t rely on objective standards like test scores and grades. This may be getting a thumbs-up in the Ivy League, but at LSU, the flagship of Louisiana’s public higher education system, it doesn’t seem like a wise call.
Those who were not part of the open-admissions system at LSU and other state universities should look back on what a waste that was. The first year was spent weeding out the class of young people who simply could not do the work. The costs to their families and the state was enormous. The loss of time for students, when they might have been more successful at a regional university or a trade school, was worse.
Admissions requirements have changed over time, but one of the fundamentals has been a decent score on the national college admissions tests, typically the ACT in Louisiana. There is no perfect indicator of college success, and in fact, the popular TOPS tuition waivers have different test scores and GPA requirements than LSU’s general admissions. But removing the ACT requirement seems counterproductive, since it’s a nationally administered objective standard. It may not be a flawless predictor of future performance, but we see it is a far better standard than high-school students’ essays read by a phalanx of administrators at LSU.
LSU is not that hard to get into today. The current ACT threshold is 22 and LSU accepts 76 percent of applicants; students' average on the ACT is 26. There are exceptions allowed not only for athletes but talented musicians and artists, but every applicant must still take the ACT and have the score reported to the school.
LSU’s new policy on ACT scores isn’t quite a return to the open-admissions regime of the old days, but it’s inconsistent with the university’s long-term strategy of raising the bar that’s been in place for more than a generation.
At vast expense, a statewide system of community colleges was established to give a transfer opportunity for students who missed the admissions target at LSU or other campuses. Baton Rouge Community College, only miles from LSU, is marking its 20th anniversary. If a student wants to get into LSU, there are multiple avenues today.
Unquestionably, the economics of Louisiana colleges are far different from the days of open admissions. Then, the state paid most of the tab. Over the last decade, enrollment has become the moneymaker. But it is a false economy for families when LSU accepts a student who is not likely to succeed.
The quality of work done by LSU students has been steadily rising under more rigorous admissions standards. We are proud of that record and believe it to be in the spirit of the master plans for higher education that have been established over decades by the state Board of Regents.
Now, what is the board to say if other campuses decide they want to emulate LSU and drop objective standards for freshmen?