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As Admissions Standards Rise, Southern University Prepares for Falling Enrollment

As Admissions Standards Rise, Southern University Prepares for Falling Enrollment
Desegregation settlement mandates selective admissions for some of Louisiana’s public colleges
By Scott Dyer

Officials at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus are bracing for a 27 percent drop in freshman enrollment this fall when the historically Black school raises admissions standards.
Southern University Chancellor Edward  R. Jackson concedes that the modest admissions standards will fly in the face of his school’s traditional mission as an open admissions university that nurtures students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“People tell us all the time that if it weren’t for Southern University, nobody would have given them a chance,” Jackson says.
Jackson says he expects the freshman enrollment to drop by about 500 this fall as a result of the new admissions standards. Southern University’s freshman enrollment last fall totaled 1,865.
The new admissions standards are mandated by the 1994 settlement in the long-running federal lawsuit over the desegregation of Louisiana’s public colleges.
The settlement created Baton Rouge Community College and attempted to ensure a racially diverse enrollment at the fledgling school by mandating selective admissions at Baton Rouge’s two public colleges — historically Black Southern University and predominantly White Louisiana State University.
Baton Rouge Community College has 2,617 students, but officials there hope to raise enrollment to at least 10,000 within the next five years. Jackson says eventually the two-year school will feed hundreds of transfer students to his campus.
“We’re going to try to take advantage of their successes, but it will be gradual,” Jackson says.
Ralph Slaughter, Southern University system vice president, acknowledged that all three campuses in the Southern University system are also benefiting immensely from the desegregation settlement. Over a 10-year period, the settlement specifies that Southern’s campuses in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport must receive a total of $34 million in state funding for new academic programs and $47 million for construction projections, Slaughter says.
Beginning this fall, Southern University applicants must have at least a 2.2 grade-point average in high school. Students with lower grades can still get into Southern if they score high enough on college-aptitude tests. A minimum score of 17 (out of a possible 36) on the ACT or 830 (out of a possible 1600) on the SAT also will get a student into the school.
Southern University for years has followed an “open admissions” policy, meaning it accepted anyone with a high school diploma regardless of grades. Despite the policy, Southern University has managed to get 84 percent of its academic programs accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
“If (the university) could do that with open admissions, it’s almost scary to think how much better we can become under these new, higher admissions standards,” Jackson says. “We know we can do this — a lot of people are kind of expecting us to fail, but we’re going to show them,” Jackson says.
In an attempt to minimize the loss of students, Jackson has launched a statewide recruiting tour of the major cities in Louisiana. And he has made several trips outside the Bayou State to cities such as Seattle to participate in recruiting rallies sponsored by Southern alumni groups. Jackson noted that over the years, a large number of Southern University alumni have had to migrate outside Louisiana to land good-paying jobs.
The move to selective admissions this fall will put Southern University ahead of a statewide effort to require most of Louisiana’s four-year schools to adopt selective admissions by the fall of 2005.
Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Joe Savoie says a proposal before the state’s Board of Regents would require all four-year colleges except Grambling State University and Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) to adopt some sort of selective admissions by 2005.
Grambling and SUNO are negotiating with Regents staffers to phase in selective admissions by 2010. Savoie says the idea is to funnel students who aren’t adequately prepared for college-level work into community colleges, where they can take remedial courses and develop their skills at a lower cost, then transfer to a four-year school.
Currently, Savoie says, about 35 percent of first-time freshmen who enroll in Louisiana’s four-year universities leave by their sophomore year.
“Admissions standards are not just about getting into college — they are about succeeding once you are there,” Savoie says. 

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