UNC to propose minimum admissions standards

The University of North Carolina is considering a minimum admission standard for all campuses, Harold L. Martin, senior vice president for academic affairs, told a meeting of the education planning committee of the Board of Governors Jan. 11. Such a standard could be proposed as early as June.

Currently, the requirement for attending any UNC campus is high school graduation and a minimum number of specified courses (such as 4 units of English and 4 units of math). A tougher admission standard could take the form of a minimum high school grade point average, class rank, and/or a minimum SAT score.

Only students transferring from other colleges are currently required to meet a grade-point threshold (a C or 2.0 average). The university administration is looking carefully at the standards that have been introduced in Mississippi and Louisiana. In Mississippi, an incoming freshman is expected to have a 3.2 grade-point average in college preparatory courses, but class rank and ACT scores can make up for a lower G.P.A.

Consideration of a minimum admission standard is part of the effort to address poor rates of retention (defined as returning for the sophomore year) and graduation, an announced priority of the Board of Governors. The administration believes that the poor preparation of some students contribute to these low rates.

Other factors also affect those rates. University president Erskine Bowles noted at the Board of Governors policy session that campuses have strong incentives to get students onto campus but not to keep them there.

The difference between incentives to enroll and incentives to retain is particularly large in the case of the seven “focused-growth” campuses, which have received special incentives to increase enrollment. But six-year graduation rates at all the “focused-growth” campuses except for Elizabeth City State are under 50 percent.

In 1998, these campuses had “excess physical capacity and smaller enrollments,” according to a Board of Governors (January 2005) report. The board authorized a 10-year plan to increase enrollment by at least 20 percent by 2003.

To attain this growth, both the UNC administration and the General Assembly increased funding for the institutions, including providing $580 million in capital improvements from the 2000 Higher Education Bond Program. (This capital investment, the report said, was more than the campuses had received since they became part of the university system in 1972). The campuses added 66 academic degree programs, including 29 master’s programs and three Ph.D. programs. They increased private fund-raising and sought research grants.

Over the first five years of the program, enrollments increased by 36 per cent, adding almost 12,000 students. This was three times as fast as the non-focused campuses grew.

The focused-growth campuses and their graduation rates are: Elizabeth City State University (50.5 percent), Fayetteville State (38.1 percent), NC A&T State University (44 percent), NC Central University (48.7 percent), UNC Pembroke (38.1 percent), Western Carolina University (48.9 percent), and Winston-Salem State University(47.6).

Two other institutions in the UNC system have six-year graduation rates under 50 percent: UNC-Charlotte (49.1) and the North Carolina School of the Arts (45.9).

The university is taking other steps to increase retention and graduation. The UNC administration is seeking state funding for an “academic bridge” summer program for incoming students who are poorly prepared. If funded, these will be held at each of the growth-focused universities, beginning in the summer of 2008.

Each campus in the UNC system is currently reviewing its retention and graduation rates, the academic performance of students, and student satisfaction. The goal of these reviews is to identify reasons for students’ failure to continue in school so that specific retention/graduation plans can be adopted. These will be reviewed by Noel-Levitz, a consulting firm that specializes in “enrollment, marketing and student success.” Final retention/graduation plans are to be presented to the Board of Governors in May, with implementation to be carried out during the 2007-08 academic year.