published Monday, May 7th, 2012

Will tougher admissions rules limit college access?

Students Tyler Dockery and Dania Gaines walk to class at Dalton State College in this file photo.
Students Tyler Dockery and Dania Gaines walk to class at Dalton State College in this file photo.
Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Follow us on Twitter for the latest breaking news

DALTON STATE CUTS

• The college will eliminate two jobs in the enrollment and student services department, and one in institutional research.

• 15 vacant faculty positions will not be filled humanities, math, social science, social work, education, technology, allied health and learning support.

• The changes will save about $150,000, and $125,000 was moved into the part-time faculty budget to help cover classes next year.

• In 2011, there were 170 full-time faculty and 80 part-time.

• The changes take effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Source: Dalton State College

FALL 2011 BY THE NUMBERS

• UTC had 6,703 applicants, of which 4,938 were accepted and 2,186 enrolled.

• Dalton State had 4,154 applicants, of which 2,1202 were accepted and 1,574 enrolled.

Sources: UT System and Dalton State College

As the pressure builds for colleges not only to enroll more students but actually graduate them, more schools are turning to their admission requirements as part of the solution.

More campuses nationwide and in the area are toughening admission standards to make sure that students who get into college also are the ones with the best chance of succeeding.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga raised the minimum ACT score from 17 to 18 in 2008, and starting last fall, the minimum high school grade point average requirement went from 2.75 to 2.85.

Dalton State College this year began requiring a minimum SAT score of 430 for the verbal section and 400 for math. And starting next fall, students who require remediation in all three areas of math, reading and writing won't be allowed to enroll, part of a University System of Georgia policy change.

If the students reach the point where they don't need remedial classes in all three areas, they can enroll.

The six-year graduation rate at UTC is 42 percent and 17 percent at Dalton State, according to Complete College America.

School officials say they are raising admission standards to make sure students are not being set up for failure, but some are concerned about limiting access to education, particularly public higher education.

"There's a policy conundrum here that the public should really think about," said Nassirian Barmak, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, a nonprofit that represents more than 2,600 institutions of higher education. The group works to advance higher education by providing leadership in academic and enrollment services, according to its website.

"Public institutions walk a thin line between being purely academic creatures and political creatures," he said.

"On the one hand, they are colleges and universities, and they have an obligation to the enhancement of learning, and in some ways they have every right to be as demanding academically as they can be," he said.

"On the other hand, the families whose kids are applying to these institutions have supported these institutions in some cases for 20, 30 years with their taxes with the expectation that as long as their child is capable of doing collegiate-level work, there would be a place for them in the public sector."

Because demand for higher education has increased and schools lack the space to accommodate all the students seeking admission, Barmak said many institutions are now turning away qualified applicants.

But neither UTC nor Dalton State is turning away students who meet minimum requirements, officials said.

At UTC, the number of first-time freshmen enrolled actually increased from 2010 to 2011, from 1,948 to 2,186. The number of all students admitted to the campus also increased, from 4,512 to 4,938.

  • photo
    Yancy Freeman, assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Services at UTC
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Last fall, UTC admitted 74 percent of its applicants, out of which 2,186, or less than half, enrolled. The ideal class size is about 2,000, said Yancy Freeman, assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Services at UTC.

Most of the students who don't get admitted do not meet minimum academic requirements, and a small number may be disqualified because of previous discipline problems, he said.

"In many ways, looking at requirements was a combination of the amount of space [at the university] and also the check point or indicator where students are successful on our campus," he said.

Students who don't get automatic admission also have the option to appeal and ask that the school do a more holistic review of their application, he said.

Dalton State announced last week it was eliminating three staff positions, cutting back hours on others and not filling about 15 that are vacant, including some faculty positions.

The school blamed the cuts in part on a decline in enrollment. Last year, the college budgeted for a 5 percent decrease but suffered an 8 percent reduction because of higher admissions standards, cuts to HOPE scholarships and other financial aid and the opening of a Georgia Northwestern Technical College campus in the community.

For fall 2013, they project another 5 percent decrease due in part to the new admission standards, which would have affected about 200 students admitted in fall 2011, according to school officials.

The problem, said Barmak, is that, for many students, their local college is their only option.

"The question becomes: Where will they go?" he asked

But Jodi Johnson, vice president for enrollment and student services at Dalton State, said the college offers pre-college programs to help students who need the extra help, and there's also the option of Georgia Northwestern Technical College or Chattanooga and Cleveland State community colleges.

"Not everyone needs or wants a four-year degree," she said. "When we talk about college, we are talking about many levels of training beyond high school, and that could be a technical certificate, an associate degree, a baccalaureate degree or an advanced or graduate degree."

The school admits about 50 percent of applicants, but Johnson said the majority that don't get in didn't complete the application process.

"If you complete the admissions process and meet the minimum admission standards, you are admitted," she said. "We are not trying to change our mission. We just want to bring students in who are prepared to do college level-work and increase their chance of success."

  • photo
    Dr. Christy Price lectures to her applications in psychology class at Dalton State College in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Success in college becomes even more important when it means many students must take out loans to go to school. Student-loan debt reached a record high of $1 trillion this year, exceeding the national credit-card debt.

Before changing admission standards, Freeman said he does an impact summary to see how it would affect students.

"I'm interested in what's the ethnic breakdown, who would not automatically gain admission, gender implications," he said. "There's no silver bullet in doing this at all, but you try to group this in such a way that gives students the single best opportunity to have some success. It does no good at all admitting a student who cannot academically succeed."

Barmak said his organization doesn't advocate admitting students who aren't ready for college-level work, but institutions are under political pressure to show accountability.

"If you decide you want to look good, one easy way of doing that is to take no risk and just keep out anybody who may take longer to graduate or drop out," he added.

Freeman agrees schools are under external pressure but said solely raising admission standards is not the answer to graduating more students.

"I think it's certainly not fair for institutions to only look at admission requirements and say, 'Well, we will just raise admission requirements and that will resolve the issue for us,'" he said.

"If that's your single way of dealing with increasing graduation rates, that's disingenuous and unfair to students. But if you are doing it in a comprehensive way that makes sense, supported by data, strategic in many ways, I feel that's the goal," he added.

Contact staff writer Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@times freepress.com or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_ Trevizo.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement
400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.