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.

If it’s fashionable in higher education to dismiss the value of college admissions tests, Louisiana – courtesy of a rash move by LSU – has just provided more evidence that a test-based standard works.

A report from the Board of Regents finds that students enrolled by “exception” from the old admission standards had lower grades, were more likely to leave early and didn’t graduate at the same rate as those who met the criteria. Many of those students were from LSU, which has embraced — in defiance of decades of state mandates — a looser “holistic review” of potential students for the main campus in Baton Rouge.

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 statewide coordinating council on colleges and universities.

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 a GPA of 2.7 percent. Those are statewide numbers, not LSU only.

“We do a disservice to students if we do not place them in the best environment to succeed,” said Regents Chairman Marty Chabert. “However, sometimes life events make it difficult for our incoming freshman to meet all the requirements.”

Perhaps there have been some personal setbacks, such as the 2016 floods, that might well have affected potential students for LSU’s main campus. The Baton Rouge area was hit hard by that catastrophe.

But as a matter of policy, the Regents report — while early, and likely to provoke a prolonged debate — does not justify LSU’s abandonment of the ACT standard, previously a 22 composite score for admission, as well as other grade-point requirements.

Some of the “life events” might well include not studying hard enough. Holistic admissions, relying on more subjective standards like essays and recommendations, may be appropriate for highly selective universities like Harvard, but are of dubious benefit to a campus like LSU.

Except, as is obvious from statements by LSU leadership, as paying customers who might not get in otherwise.

Most of the special admissions students were from Louisiana, the Regents report to a legislative committee indicates. LSU President F. King Alexander pledged that no students from Texas or elsewhere would be displacing state residents under holistic admissions.

Aside from athletes, who are dealt with under separate NCAA rules, there should be rare cases for exceptions for talented artists or other uniquely qualified students.

But as the Regents report makes clear, those should be if anything rarer than the rules today allow, because students cannot succeed at a high-quality university unless they come prepared academically.