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KU walks alone in admissions reform

University of Kansas

The University of Kansas stands alone among the state’s public universities in a quest to elevate admissions standards beyond the minimum required by law. Neither Kansas State University nor any of four other universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system expressed a desire to follow  KU’s maneuver to break from the pack.

“We’ve had no interest with institution-specific admissions other than KU,” said Andy Tompkins, the state board’s president and chief executive officer. The 2009 Legislature authorized establishment of differentiated undergraduate student admissions standards.

Nearly a year ago, Gov. Sam Brownback urged the Board of Regents to improve national rankings of the state universities, especially KU and K-State. University officials have long sought to raise profiles in published rankings, and one method of grabbing attention is to make admissions more selective.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little packaged the campaign to tighten the roster of entering freshmen students as an attempt to improve the university’s retention and graduation rates. At the same time, she said, the program targeted for initiation in 2016 would help redirect to other colleges the applicants without skills to succeed at the four-year school.

“These new standards will let students and parents know what sort of preparation is needed,” she said. “They’ll encourage students to strive for excellence in high school so that they’re ready when they arrive at KU.”

Under the basic framework, admission to KU would be granted automatically to freshmen who apply by Feb. 1 and reach elevated requirements for high school grade-point average and standardized college entrance testing.

The process at KU would require prospective students to have graduated from high school or a home school while completing the state’s precollege curriculum and meeting one of two achievement thresholds. The options: a minimum 3.0 high school GPA and ACT score of 24 or SAT of 1,090; or a minimum 3.25 high school GPA and an ACT of 21 or SAT of 980.

People applying to KU who don’t meet the new academic criteria or miss the “priority” application deadline would have their case decided by a university committee. The current final admission deadline for the fall 2012 semester is Aug. 6.

Factors to be taken into account by the committee include demonstrated talent in a particular area, test scores, grade trend, personal challenges and children or grandchildren of KU graduates. KU officials intend to make provisions for GED certificate holders and transfer students.

Under current Kansas law, state universities accept students who receive at least a 21 on the ACT, rank in the top one-third of their class or have a 2.0 GPA in the pre-college curriculum. The universal standard will be modified in 2014 to stipulate students must hit the ACT mark and either the class rank or GPA measure.

The Board of Regents granted first-round approval last week to the KU admissions policy, which allows development of precise regulations by December. Regent Janie Perkins, of Garden City, voted against KU’s reform initiative because deadline and standard changes might discourage applicants. “I just feel like it may be a roadblock,” she said.

Gray-Little, who taught at the University of North Carolina, which subjects all applicants to committee review, said the revamped approach at KU would disappoint some applicants. “There could be some students denied admission,” Gray-Little said. “We want every student who is interested in attending The University of Kansas and who will be successful here to come study with us.”

KU provost Jeffrey Vitter said the university was losing students to other states with early application deadlines. Some students equate early deadlines with higher quality schools, he said. “Yes, higher standards could reduce the number of students coming in, but if you do it right, we’re going to raise our profile and increase demand,” he said.

KU students who apply before Feb. 1 have a higher statistical probability of returning sophomore year than those who applied past the date. “That’s a very interesting dynamic,” said Christine Downey-Schmidt, a member of the Board of Regents from Inman.

Regent Robba Moran, of Hays, said rising tuition and student debt raised stakes of a person’s college choice. “It is so imperative for students to be successful and pick the right university,” Moran said. “This just says, not that we’re excluding people, but we’re trying to help them succeed and help them financially.”

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