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Ryan Johnson, Published August 14 2012

North Dakota college entry standards could get a lot stricter

FARGO – North Dakota State University and the 10 other public colleges and universities in the state could soon see drastic changes in admissions requirements and the elimination of tuition waivers if new Chancellor Hamid Shirvani is successful in his push to address “deficiencies” in the state’s higher education status quo.

During a meeting with The Forum’s Editorial Board, Shirvani outlined his proposal to differentiate the 11 campuses under a “three-tier” system, with NDSU and the University of North Dakota at the top as research universities.

Shirvani, who began overseeing the North Dakota University System on July 1, said it didn’t take long for him to figure out the admissions standards needed work, especially when they seem to be more of a “moving target” than clear requirements.

With a systemwide graduation rate of just 48 percent within six years of starting college, and only a slightly higher rate at NDSU and UND, he said something has to change.

“When you bring the student who is not well-prepared, after one year, they drop,” he said. “They can’t handle it.”

Big changes

Shirvani said his proposal would address the five “fundamental” categories of higher education success: access, quality, affordability, learning and accountability.

It would separate the 11 campuses into three categories. NDSU and UND would be categorized as research universities and would have to follow the strictest admissions requirements.

Dickinson State University, Mayville State University, Minot State University and Valley City State University would fall under the comprehensive university category. They also would see admissions standards rise under the plan, but not to the same level as the research universities.

Shirvani’s draft proposal would calculate an admissions score for each prospective student based on a formula now in place in Iowa that looks at high school grade-point average, high school rank, number of completed high school core classes and composite ACT score. The required score for acceptance would be phased in over three years beginning next fall. By the 2015 academic year, the strictest final requirements would be in place.

If students don’t meet research university standards under the proposal, they might have a high enough score to attend a comprehensive university in the state. They also could go to one of North Dakota’s five two-year schools categorized as community colleges, which would maintain the open enrollment they now have.

Shirvani’s plan also would work to address the large number of students now at the state’s four-year universities who are in remedial education courses, which would eventually only be handled by the community colleges. Last fall, 13.6 percent of NDSU’s first-time freshmen and 5.4 percent of UND’s new students took remedial courses.

The presidents of the research universities would still have some discretion, and could accept up to 5 percent of students who need remedial courses only if they meet strict guidelines, such as minority students or student athletes. But the remediation would take place at the community colleges.

Community colleges also would handle dual-credit courses, which are now taught by high school instructors and allow high school students to earn college credits before they graduate or even step foot on a campus.

Shirvani said the state needs to establish a “North Dakota High School to College Readiness Report,” a report card of sorts that will track each state resident’s academic success during their first year in college and provide the information to parents, teachers and local leaders.

He said the new level of accountability could improve how high schools prepare their students, especially considering just 25 percent of North Dakota’s ninth-graders finish high school on time, go on to college and earn a degree within six years.

Shirvani also called for providing state-funded, need-based aid to more students while launching an adult learner project to help former students who have some credits complete a degree.

In the wake of last month’s critical audit of how UND and NDSU have spent student fees in recent years, Shirvani said it’s time to shift to a more consistent tuition model that eliminates tuition waivers and sets clear tuition charges for students depending on their field of study.

He said he will discuss his proposal with college administrators over the coming weeks, and their input will guide the timeline of the plan. The proposal will need to earn the approval of the Board of Higher Education before it can go into effect.

But Shirvani said if approved, the new standards and initiatives will all be in place within five years, and some of the changes will start as soon as next fall.

“It’s not a matter of choice, but it’s a matter of we’re going to work it out with them to make sure in every one of these campuses that the impact is not drastic,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587