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Published December 04 2013

Forum editorial: Not the right ‘path to success’

‘Measure twice, cut once.” That’s good advice for carpenters and, it turns out, good advice for the North Dakota University System. Hamid Shirvani, whose brief tenure as chancellor was a disaster, was not one for careful measuring and methodical planning.

That’s become glaringly clear as administrators analyze the implications of carrying out more stringent campus admissions standards mapped out by Shirvani in his infamous Pathways plan. The results, an analysis of freshmen, are sobering. At North Dakota State University, more than 1,000 students – that’s 41 percent of the freshman student population – would not meet academic eligibility requirements. It’s much the same at the University of North Dakota, where more than 850, or 46 percent, wouldn’t make the cut.

“Even successful students would be left out if the cutoff scores were left where they’re at,” said Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen, who has been left to pick up the pieces Shirvani left behind. “If a student can come into one of our institutions and graduate, who am I to say that they should have never been admitted to that institution?”

That’s an excellent point, one the state Board of Higher Education must give great weight as it decides how to proceed. Shirvani had the backing of the board to address the problem of too many college students requiring remedial courses, and taking too long to graduate or failing to graduate. His Pathways to Student Success plan was scheduled to begin by the fall of 2015.

Implementing Shirvani’s arbitrary plan to raise admissions standards, hatched with inadequate input and not enough careful thought behind it, would slam the door shut on many of North Dakota’s sons and daughters to the state’s flagship universities. They represent human capital, the state’s most important asset and its future.

Let’s not forget that these are public universities, the gateway to success that should be open to a broad spectrum of students who are prepared for college studies. These state universities have a broad mission. Their taxpayer-supported role is very different from private colleges that can cater to financial and academic elites.

To be sure, Shirvani’s plan was intended to address very real problems. Too many university students require remedial courses. Too many take too long to graduate, racking up burdensome student loan debt, or fail to graduate. These are problems requiring a holistic approach, with an eye to improving education at all levels, beginning at the elementary and secondary level, and integrating a K-12 curriculum “common core” with the university system.

To compete in a global economy, North Dakota must set the bar high. But as it fine-tunes its university system, it must be careful not to arbitrarily set admissions standards that would exclude capable students. That is not the right path for the state to pursue.


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