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Published September 27 2012

Forum editorial: Get ready to succeed in college

North Dakota’s proud egalitarian tradition of allowing almost any high school graduate to attend a public university has run up against the reality of educational standards. The state Board of Higher Education, at the urging of new Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, is moving with unusual alacrity to revise and upgrade requirements for admission to the state’s three-tiered university and college system.

It’s about time.

Shirvani, who does not carry the historical baggage that has occasionally weighed down the system, recognized right away that radical changes in admissions policies are crucial to maintaining and improving the value and relevance of an education on the 11 state campuses. Dropout rates among students from North Dakota high schools are running at unacceptably high levels. Campuses are wasting time and instructional resources, and taking up scarce classroom space for remedial programs.

In other words, high school graduates have been waltzing into the universities, often with transcripts that indicate they are qualified to do college work, when their freshman-year performance demonstrates they are not. The cumulative effects of such benign neglect of educational rigor constitute a crippling disservice to students and an expensive burden on higher education. And keep in mind: Even with intensive remedial opportunities the college dropout rate still is scandalous.

Chancellor Shirvani and the higher ed board seem ready to make the tough decisions now, rather than stretch out the process and possibly lose momentum. Shirvani is looking at a window of no more than three years to phase in new admission requirements, which should give high schools time to not only adjust curriculum, but also to counsel students regarding the course work they will need to be admitted to a North Dakota college of their choice.

Observers of secondary and higher education have known for some time that standards have eroded for many reasons, ranging from cultural changes and parental pressure to federal mandates and the sometimes impossible demands placed on public school teachers and administrators. But none of that means North Dakota lacks the will or resources to address challenges and better serve students. That’s the aim of the higher ed system’s change in college admission requirements. It’s the right strategy.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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