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Alumni Fight Grambling Admissions Standards

Alumni Fight Grambling Admissions Standards
Student retention rates could improve under new standards, Louisiana officials say.
By Scott Dyer

Plans to impose new admissions standards for Grambling State University freshmen are being challenged in a federal lawsuit that claims the change may threaten the mission of the historically Black university.

The lawsuit, filed by the Grambling University National Alumni Association, a host of other alumni, students and former employees, claims that state officials are not acting in the best interests of Grambling by requiring incoming freshmen to complete certain college-prep courses in high school.

In an interview, alumni association president James Bradford said Grambling had traditionally maintained an open admissions policy that fit into its historic mission of educating poor Black students.

Noting that Grambling’s enrollment is declining, Bradford warned that the increased admissions standards may drive away many Black students. He also fears that Grambling will become more attractive
to non-Blacks, potentially changing the character of the university.

The lawsuit targets Grambling President Horace Judson, the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors, University of Louisiana System President Sally Clausen and the Louisiana Board of Regents.
In addition to challenging the admissions standards, the lawsuit lists 42 other allegations that range from “engaging in scare tactics to intimidate university employees” to creating an atmosphere of instability that is reflected by constant turnover at the top – Grambling has had six presidents since 1991.

Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Savoie, who works with the board of regents to develop policies for the state’s colleges and universities, says establishing admissions standards will ultimately increase Grambling’s enrollment by improving its retention rate.

For years, Grambling and most of Louisiana’s other four-year public universities maintained an open admissions policy that accepted anyone with a high school diploma, regardless of courses or grades.

Savoie notes that the lack of requirements for a solid college prep curriculum helped contribute to the state’s excessive college dropout rate, which for years was the worst in the nation.

“We weren’t doing anyone any good under the old open admissions policy, when we knew that two-thirds of the freshmen who were admitted probably would not complete their degrees within six years,” he says.

By requiring students to take the high-school courses that they need to succeed in college, Savoie says Grambling will improve its retention and graduation rates.

Most other Louisiana four-year colleges and universities were required to have admissions standards in place by 2005 as part of the settlement of the long-running federal lawsuit over the desegregation of Louisiana’s public universities.

Savoie says most of those institutions actually began “easing” into the standards four to five years earlier in order to avoid a big drop in freshmen enrollment.

The settlement gave two historically Black universities, Grambling and Southern University at New Orleans, an additional five years to implement admissions standards.

To provide alternative access points to higher education for those who can’t meet the new standards, Louisiana established a new community and technical college system in 1999 that maintained an open admissions policy.

Bradford says he’s not convinced that the community colleges can meet the needs of Black students as efficiently as an HBCU like Grambling.

Clausen, who helped Grambling hold on to its accreditation after the school was placed on probation in 2001 for several critical audits, says other HBCUs have benefited from admissions standards.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, enrollment at three Mississippi HBCUs increased by more than 25 percent from the time the schools implemented admissions standards in 1995 and 2004
Beginning in the fall of 1995, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University all required incoming freshmen to complete 15.5 units of college preparatory classes in high school, to maintain a 2.0 GPA and to score at least an 18 on the ACT.

As part of Louisiana’s desegregation settlement, Grambling’s incoming freshmen will be required to have at least 17.5 units of college prep classes by the fall of 2010.

But Clausen notes that Judson has devised a plan that will ease Grambling into core curriculum requirements by requiring incoming freshmen to complete 14.5 units of college prep work beginning in the fall of 2007. The requirement will increase by one unit each year until 2010, when Grambling’s incoming freshmen will have to complete 17.5 unit of college prep classes. In addition, Grambling freshmen must have a GPA of at least 2.0, an ACT score of at least 20 or rank in the top 50 percent of their graduating class, provided that they don’t need more than one remedial course.

Pointing to Black gains in achievement tests nationwide after stringent standards were implemented, Clausen said, “There’s an awful lot of evidence to suggest that if you raise your expectations, they will rise up to that level.”

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