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BILL CRAWFORD — Legislators should take hard look at university admissions

BILL CRAWFORD

USM cut out-of-state tuition by 40 percent “to reverse a 2,000-student enrollment dip by pricing a USM education below some public universities in nearby states,” reported the Clarion-Ledger. 

 
IHL data shows the average percentage of out-of-state students attending Mississippi public universities is 30 percent. The averages for each university are ASU 24 percent, DSU 17 percent, JSU 23 percent, MSU 34 percent, MUW 15 percent, MVSU 23 percent, UM 41 percent, USM 21 percent.
 
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn led a panel of lawmakers discussing the high costs of education in Mississippi to focus in on “the $35 million colleges and universities spend annually on remediation for students that need extra help once they get to college,” reported Mississippi Today. 
 
Enrolling under-prepared students impacts graduation rates. IHL data shows the average six-year graduation rate for Mississippi public universities is 50%. The rates for each university are ASU 34 percent, DSU 36 percent, JSU 39 percent, MSU 61 percent, MUW 39 percent, MVSU 26 percent, UM 59 percent, USM 45 percent.
 
“Mississippi’s postsecondary education system as a whole awards fewer bachelor’s degrees than the national average,” reported BestColleges.com.”
 
Hmmm.
 
The above information suggests our high schools are doing a poor job preparing students for university level work, we let far too many under-prepared students into our universities, and we’re having to hustle out-of-state students to keep our universities filled up. 
 
Nevertheless, MSU President Mark Keenum, DSU President William LaForge, and IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce “warned legislators that continued declines in state funding could cause serious damage to public universities,” reported Mississippi Today.
 
University officials appear to want more money to keep doing what they’ve been doing without promising better results. Albert Einstein called doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results “insanity.”
 
More than one successful business leader in Mississippi have suggested that raising university admission standards could eliminate the need for remediation, dramatically improve graduation rates, and significantly reduce costs.
 
Gunn’s group also discussed the admission standards, reported Mississippi Today. The report said IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce called them “one of the lowest” set of standards in the nation and that he and university presidents have begun discussing the pros and cons of the current standards for both in and out of state students. He called access to higher education a pro. “We don’t want to cut that access off,” he said.
 
Hmmm.
 
So, which is more important access or success?  
 
Access to near certain failure at universities might be worth cutting off, particularly when access to community colleges is a viable, more affordable alternative. 
 
There is no doubt Mississippi needs many more university graduates. But that doesn’t mean we need to underprice tuition to attract out-of-state students or allow thousands of under-prepared students to enroll. 
 
State money is tight. Pouring more money into a flawed system seems ill-advised, if not insane. Legislators should take a hard look at university admission standards and out-of-state tuition. While raising admission standards and out-of-state tuition prices would be controversial and opposed by most universities, scarce budget dollars dictate hard looks across the board. 
 
 
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)

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