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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published November 21 2013

ND higher ed board says new admissions plan might need tweaking

FARGO — State Board of Higher Education members expressed concern Thursday that a proposed plan to improve North Dakota college graduation rates might set the admissions bar so high that it would exclude students who could have succeeded, particularly at the state's two research universities.

The board discussed the so-called Pathways to Student Success plan at its monthly meeting in Mayville. The idea was originally proposed last year and is scheduled to be fully implemented in 2015.

Figures presented to the board show that 41 percent of the University of North Dakota students who started at the school in 2006 wouldn't be have been eligible to enroll under the proposed admission index. That figure would be 36 percent at North Dakota State University.

"These are successful students. These are students who have walked the stage and got their degrees," said Larry Skogen, the university system's interim chancellor. "I think we just need to back up and look at the data again."

The index is based upon a combination of high school grade point average, core courses and college entrance exam scores. The formula gives a minimum combined score of 210 to NDSU and UND. At Minot State, where the cutoff is 190, only 5 percent of students who started in 2006 and graduated would be rejected in 2015.

"It appears that when you look at Minot, 190 is probably the right number. And should 190 be the right number for UND and NDSU as well?" Skogen said. "I don't know."

At least one board member isn't convinced that the admission index needs tweaking. Duaine Espegard, of Grand Forks, said the program is meant to get students in the right place.

"What I hear today is that you're trying to make it work so it doesn't affect as much," Espegard said. "The Pathways program is aspiring to raise — particularly at the research colleges — the bar up a bit. I feel that we're working and moving the bar down so it fits.

"It's not all about the money. It's about moving the colleges forward," he said.

Graduation rates for first-time students who enrolled in 2005 are 54 percent for NDSU and UND, 42 percent for Valley City State, 41 percent for Dickinson State, 33 percent for Minot State, and 26 percent for Mayville State.

Skogen said the Pathways plan needs to include a "conversation about what's going on in K-12" to prepare students for college. Research shows that 1,900 freshman students who enrolled this fall at NDSU (41 percent) and UND (46 percent) would not be eligible under the admission proposal.

Douglas Munski, the faculty representative to the board, said the figures show why it's important to improve preparation beginning in 8th grade or earlier.

"All I'm saying is this is going to look a lot different once you get things rolling along and we actually gets the students who are prepared," he said.

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