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Regents must force LSU off declining path

In ratifying unanimously Louisiana State University Baton Rouge’s decision to lower admission standards, the LSU Board of Supervisors showed both tone deafness and disingenuousness.

Last year, LSU surreptitiously altered the state-mandated requirement that, with few exceptions, entering freshmen score at least a 22 on the American College test or its equivalent, arguing that Board of Regents standards permitted dropping that as a hard and fast rule. The Regents set policy but the Supervisors manage LSU System schools.

LSU argues that “holistic” admissions, through the use of other criteria that in its mind justifies admission of students scoring below 22 without any special circumstances, will preserve academic quality. It notes that a number of universities (although most much more highly selective in admissions) have headed in this direction and says the experiment of last year produced a class at or near all-time highest average test scores and grade point averages.

The latter factoid the supervisors echoed in their approval. But, as even students of basic research methods realize, that doesn’t mean the system didn’t reduce the quality of incoming students in the aggregate. All we know is that the system produced these results, with us unable to go back in time and do it all over again using the old standard. At least as likely, had LSU used the old rules the average score and GPA would have been even higher.

One supervisor, Ronald Anderson, applauded the change while alleging the rigidity of the requirement disproportionately kept out students from rural communities, presumably as their schools has fewer resources to provide a better education. Keep in mind that for those scoring 21 they can get a free tuition ride through the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students and that scoring 22 decidedly denotes mediocre performance – 22 and above is only the top three-sevenths of ACT performers.

Note the odd logic here; Anderson essentially admits he wants to see less-prepared students go to LSU. In that circumstance, one of two things will happen: either these students disproportionally will flunk out precisely because they are less-prepared or LSU will adjust its standards downwards to keep them from doing so. All students end up disserved; those set up to fail and others of higher caliber who experience the reduced emphasis on excellence to try to prevent the others from crashing and burning.

Another supervisor, Blake Chatelain, made a weak attempt to blunt this critique. He noted many capable students who failed to enter LSU because of a test score went on to success at other colleges, implying that they would have hacked the demands of LSU.

Note the lack of logic here: many likely did well elsewhere precisely because they went to a school more attuned to their strengths and weaknesses. If in fact LSU is more academically demanding, they might have done much more poorly at LSU (not only because of rigor, but from other potential distractions there often missing at other schools), if even stayed in school. Doing well elsewhere says little about how they could have fared at LSU.

To complete the hat trick of imbecility, System Pres. F. King Alexander said that the change would let LSU “fully evaluate our applicants [that] will help keep Louisiana’s best students in state.” But the new policy doesn’t affect the “best students” at all – with their much higher scores, in essence eliminating the cutoff doesn’t discourage any from leaving the state. It affects only mediocre students, so Alexander seriously suggests that a certain portion of mediocre students want LSU or bust and will head out of state if LSU rejects them? And LSU should flunk out more students or dumb down just to accommodate them?

All of these excuses serve an avoidance strategy to deny the obviousness of that truth, and that this was done primarily for LSU to capture more revenue. Although the change will beggar slightly my employer LSU Shreveport and LSU Alexandria, the number of students LSU can capture from the University of Louisiana System and even Southern University System will more than outweigh those system losses (its more expensive tuition won’t matter for many because of TOPS, needlessly increasing taxpayer costs as well).

The Regents have undertaken a study to determine how they can force LSU to toe the line they created in 1985. Let’s hope they find the will to make LSU continue to aspire to excellence by causing the reversal of this new policy.

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