Texas Southern University has an alarmingly low graduation rate, but the school’s new president hopes to change that by ending the long practice of admitting all applicants, regardless of their academic background.
President John Rudley said the change is needed to restore the tarnished image of the state’s largest historically Black university, which has struggled with management missteps and sliding enrollment.
About 70 percent of first-time freshmen arrive at Texas Southern without the skills needed to do college work, according to the university. More than half leave before achieving sophomore status. And only 16 percent earn a bachelor’s in six years, compared with 55 percent statewide. Rudley faulted Texas Southern’s policy of accepting anyone who passed the high school equivalency test. Instead, he said, students should earn their place through their test scores and grades.
“A university shouldn’t have to accept anybody with a GED,” he said, referring to the equivalency test. “That means they didn’t complete high school but they can come here without the same preparation as others and then be expected to compete.”
The idea could be a tough sell among alumni and parents of prospective students who see the open-admissions policy as a ticket to a better life for people who might not otherwise be able to attend college, said John Sapp Jr., a chemistry professor at Texas Southern.
The last president to propose breaking from open admissions William Harris in 1992 resigned three months later, said Sapp, who is also a Texas Southern graduate. “The community is not ready at all,” he said.
But Rudley has support from Glenn Lewis, a former state lawmaker who now chairs the university’s governing board, and Raymund Paredes, the state’s higher education commissioner.”If these students aren’t graduating and they’re incurring two years of debt with no means to pay off their loans, that’s not a defensible system,” Paredes said.
Prairie View A&M University, the state’s other historically Black university, may serve as a model for the new system. That school requires a score of 820 on the SAT or a 17 on the ACT and a 2.5 grade-point average. Applicants who do not meet those standards can earn admission by completing a summer program on campus.
Texas Southern also runs an eight-week summer program for unprepared students, but participation lags because there is no incentive with open admissions, university officials said.
Texas Southern employed the same admissions requirements as the University of Texas at Austin until the late 1960s, when predominantly white schools began luring Black students with scholarship offers. The university dropped its standards to maintain enrollment.
Some people who oppose the stricter standards said they could lead to a sharp enrollment decline. But Rudley said be believes raising the bar for admission would improve the school’s image and attract new students.
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