UPDATE: SBHE Finally Decides Quality Trumps Quantity
In a move sure to make ND higher education critics stop and take some level of notice, the State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) today unanimously approved a key reform promoted by rookie Chancellor Hamid Shirvani — tougher entrance standards at the state’s institutions. I personally feel this is a step in the right direction, although the path to truly reforming our system (yes, it belongs to the people of North Dakota) will be one of many steps. It most certainly needs to include a significant change to how that system is governed.
This change won’t take place in full until 2015, and won’t affect students who are enrolled now. In all fairness, it wasn’t apparent from the Fargo Forum report whether that means those not enrolled now, but who may before 2015, will fall under the tougher standards now. It is something we will follow up on and provide an update to, but in the meantime, I can say that initiating the change in full now for incoming freshmen will do nothing but expedite some renewed goodwill towards the university system. Simply put there are too many days, expiration of terms for SBHE members, and a legislative session between now and then. That creates way too many opportunities for the watering down, delay, or elimination of these new entrance requirements.
Of course, today’s vote was not met with unanimous support:
Some students at Minot State University protested the change. They say some elements of the plan will raise tuition costs for Canadian students, and they may enroll elsewhere.
The focus of our NORTH DAKOTA University System should not be enrolling Canadian students, especially if you need to have low entrance standards to do it. A shift in focus back from quantity to quality should have a positive effect on the demand for your product anyways, attracting the kids (from both in and out of the state) because what you are selling is good, and better ensuring they should be there anyways.
As Rob has posted on at length in the past, one of too many issues with our state higher ed system has been an almost myopic focus on pushing warm bodies through the front door without much concern if they exit the back one with a useful degree in hand (except, or course, if you are from China in the case of Dickinson State, where new printers were no doubt needed to keep up with the numbers of fraudulent degrees given out), or any degree at all.
The individual universities and system as a whole were the winners under this management practice. Tuition and fees were collected (even where not always warranted), and enrollment numbers could be bragged about to the public and legislature to help justify more taxpayer money being sent their way. Higher tuition could be justified to parents and students. The cities the schools called home were along for the ride too, benefiting from a transient population that bumped up their sales tax collections and other revenues.
The loser was always the individual student in this scenario; the very people the system was meant to serve. In part because of this focus on sheer numbers, graduation rates dropped below half. Too many students were getting in who had no business being in college, at least at that point in their lives. Those that survived walked out with a degree which may have been useless in their next phase of life. Those that did not only had debt and lost time to show for their efforts. In either case, only the higher education machine benefited.
Warily, a very guarded hat tip goes out to the SBHE and the Chancellor for this change. But, follow through is what counts. We will be watching.
UPDATE: The new entrance standards are all tied to the three-tier system proposed by Chancellor Shirvani, placing UND and NDSU at the top tier, followed by the other four year colleges in the second, then the two year colleges in the third. Limits will beplaced on each schools ability to grant waivers and reduced tuition to out of state and foreign students. All this sounds good on the surface, but it is apparent the changes will be worked out over time instead of an immediate implementation for incoming students not already accepted for enrollment.
Under the new rules, entrance scores will be determined by a mathematical formula using a student’s high school grades, course work and ACT test results. North Dakota residents will get a small point bonus.
Students whose score meets or exceeds their chosen university’s “index number” would be automatically accepted. Those who fall short could ask admissions offices on each campus for an exception.
An earlier proposal included a student’s senior class rank as part of the calculation, but Shirvani said the idea was dropped because class rank could provide a skewed result at smaller high schools.
Two-year colleges will continue to have open enrollment and host any remedial schooling needed for prospective university students. Shirvani said the colleges could provide instruction on the campuses of North Dakota’s four-year universities.
Does potential for wiggle room exist yet for individual school presidents to bump up their numbers? Most definitely, if it is left up to each one to grant admissions exceptions as highlighted above. This leaves all sorts of opportunity open to quietly admit students who have no business being in college to keep the pipeline full, especially if there are no clear guidelines provided to each university by the SBHE as to what exceptions can be granted and why. This may create another non-transparent environment for situations rising to the level of the DSU fiasco.Tags: Chancellor, dickinson state university, Education, hamid shirvani, higher education, minot state university, North Dakota News, SBHE, state board of higher education