It’s good to see the legacy media finally are discovering a decisive aspect not just to the upcoming public policy debate about the merger proposed between Southern University New Orleans and the University of New Orleans, but also something that decisively will reshape higher education across the state. As this space repeatedly has noted, starting next fall higher admission standards to all tertiary education institutions are on the way with substantial consequences for SUNO in particular.
These new requirements for admission mean for an institution like SUNO for entrance a new college student younger than 25 would have to have 19 core units in high schools, a minimum 2.0 grade point average there overall and in these core courses, no remedial coursework needed, and a minimum of 20 on the American College Test. Two years later, a minimum on the ACT math portion of 19 and on English of 18 will be needed. At present, only a core of 17.5 units, as many as one remedial course needed, and any of a 2.0 overall GPA, 20 on the ACT, or graduating in the top half of a high school class serves. Note that the national ACT average is about 21 while at SUNO it is 15.5, and that in a number of high schools across the state almost no members of it who graduate qualify for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students award which requires a 20 on the ACT.
As a result, a stunning 79 percent of SUNO students admitted in 2009 would not have qualified under the impending standards, producing 867 fewer students on campus – a drop of 29 percent of the entire student body. Do that for four consecutive years, assuming no transfer students, and maintaining its current retention rate of 46.9 percent with no dropouts after the freshman year (making for reasonable approximation given that there are dropouts after the first year but that the retention rate should be higher without so many marginal students enrolled), and the student body of just over 3,000 for 2009 becomes 556 or a reduction of 83 percent. Of course, there still can be transfer students, although those standards are going up as well even as at SUNO’s level they would be less demanding than those for freshman, students admitted under which should increase in number as more attend first a community college and then subsequently get in to SUNO.
Nevertheless, it should be obvious the total enrollment will be substantially smaller at SUNO within a few years, perhaps half or less of what it is now. At around 1,500 students it would be 1,000 students smaller than the next baccalaureate institution, Louisiana State University Alexandria – and remaining a mile away in a major metropolitan area from another, much larger, baccalaureate-and-above public institution. Can taxpayers really afford to fund the operating and infrastructure costs of a discrete four-year academic unit with these characteristics?
This assessment must inform the debate over the existence of SUNO and UNO as separate institutions (UNO’s non-admittance rate over the new standards, which are more demanding that the ones to be imposed on SUNO, would for the 2009 entering class be 27 percent or a loss of 666, or leaving a combined campus at about 200 fewer assuming all 666 could and did enroll at SUNO). Both institutions also would get advantaged under the new standards as a trickle-down effect might be expected; i.e. higher standards for LSU would push down some students to UNO, and from UNO to SUNO if left unmerged. Still, numbers would indicate it’s just not worth having a separate institution of higher education when a nearby alternative exists – and the graduation statistics of which don’t seem as suspect.
As it is, backers of keeping SUNO separate and part of the Southern University System try to argue that SUNO gets penalized unfairly for having so many transfer students graduate, underestimating the true performance of the school. But the stark reality is that admitting so many less-capable students regardless of whether they came in by transfer typically sets them up for failure, either by their flunking out or because they graduate while apparently not having much demanded of them. Statistics show low ACT scorers do very poorly in GPA and graduation typically – and, according to 2007 data, the typical SUNO admitted student scores in the bottom 15th percentile or so of all ACT takers – meaning that a substantial portion of them are awarded diplomas by SUNO thereby makes questionable the degree of rigor of instruction there, and the value of its diploma
Another argument made by backers asserts that SUNO provides a place for non-matriculating students to take classes for professional and personal enhancement without the need for pursuit of a degree. Leaving aside the question of rigor noted above, students can accomplish the same goals in almost every circumstance by attending a community college such as Delgado or Nunez, so a baccalaureate institution should not, and does not cost effectively in comparison, provide that service.
Thus, as debate begins today and tomorrow on the merits of the merger idea in the Legislature, legislators need to understand the implications of the incipient increased admission standards. They fundamentally will make SUNO’s student body much smaller and mostly transfers, begging the question of why it should exist on a cost-effectiveness basis as a separate institution. Knowing this, a SUNO-UNO merger makes more sense than ever.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 16:00