Southern University Raises Admissions Standards With Little Fallout
But Baton Rouge Community College experiences 70 percent enrollment jump.
By Scott Dyer
BATON ROUGE, La
Last summer, when Southern University was poised to raise its admission standards as part of a federal desegregation settlement, school officials were bracing for a loss of 700 students — or about 8 percent of last fall’s total enrollment of 9,133.
But thanks to an intensive recruiting effort that reached into all corners of Louisiana, Southern officials were able to hold the losses to 410 for an official headcount of 8,723. And Southern University Chancellor Edward Jackson predicted that the new standards will raise the academic bar for the entire campus.
“In many ways, this is the beginning of a new Southern University,” Jackson told his faculty at the beginning of this semester.
Jackson noted that, as a historically Black university, Southern has traditionally maintained an open admissions policy that accepted anyone with a high school diploma or the equivalent, regardless of their grades. Jackson conceded that the mission of the school will change under the new admissions requirements that are required by the 1994 settlement of the long-running federal lawsuit over the desegregation of Louisiana’s public colleges.
For the past 121 years, Jackson says, Southern University has provided educational opportunities to people who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to attend college, helping them to develop skills to help them succeed academically and in life. The new admissions criteria are designed to raise academic standards for the school, but they will force academically disadvantaged students to turn elsewhere for help.
Beginning this fall, applicants to Southern University must have a 2.2 grade-point average on a 4.0 grade scale in high school, or achieve a score of 17 out of a possible 36 on the ACT or 830 out of a possible 1,600 on the SAT.
In most cases, Jackson says students who fail to meet Southern University’s new admission standards will turn to the state’s fledgling community college system for their first two years of college. The state’s community colleges all have open admissions.
“Hopefully, the students who were displaced by their effort will make the transition from community colleges to four-year colleges when they finish,” Jackson says.
Jackson also acknowledged that newly created community colleges are attracting hundreds of other students who might never have gone to college, and who may someday wind up transferring to Southern University and other four-year schools.
“More people are entering higher education, and that’s what we wanted,” Jackson says.
For example, at Baton Rouge Community College — where many displaced Southern applicants are referred — enrollment is up 70 percent this fall, increasing to 4,298 from 2,577. Baton Rouge Community College Chancellor Walter Bumphus says more than 90 percent of his students are taking college-level courses that will transfer to four-year universities. And while the average age for students at most community colleges hovers around 28, Bumphus says the average student at his school this fall is only 22.
“It tells me that we have a lot of kids who are right out of high school and plan to transfer someday to LSU or Southern University,” he says.
Bumphus notes that the surge in enrollment at his school has come in spite of the fact that the school does not currently offer financial aid. Now starting its fourth year, Baton Rouge Community College is still in the process of obtaining regional accreditation so it can qualify for Pell grants and other federal aid.
The school was created as a racial mixing tool by the 1994 desegregation settlement, but faced criticism from court monitors earlier this year for its relatively small African American enrollment. Bumphus notes that this fall, Black enrollment at the school nearly doubled, increasing from 588 to 1,048.
Overall enrollment is also up dramatically at another relatively new community college that serves the Lafayette area, where Southern University has traditionally recruited many students. South Louisiana Community College Chancellor Ned Doffoney says his enrollment this spring totals 1,021, up 33 percent from last year’s 769. Doffoney says many students who are enrolled in his school this fall are talking about transferring to Southern in the future. Statewide, enrollment at the state’s seven community colleges increased 15 percent to 25,245.
Jackson says he’s bullish about the prospects offered by community college transfers.
“We expect to recover up to 10,000 students in four to five years,” Jackson says.
Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Savoie says other Louisiana colleges that have raised admission standards have seen enrollment dip initially, and later start to grow.
Savoie says the state board of regents’ master plan calls for other public four-year universities in Louisiana to go to a three-tiered set of admission standards in coming years, forcing more college freshmen into community colleges.
“The idea is not to have fewer people go to college. The idea is to have more students go to college and succeed when they get there,” Savoie says.
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