Jul 172007
 
Authors: J. David McSwane

Some K-12 administrators and college officials are saying higher education commissioners jumped the gun last week when they refused to postpone new admissions standards for four-year public colleges.

In a 6-3 vote, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education refused to delay goals set in 2003, approving stricter math and language requirements for high school graduates entering college in 2010.

Students will still need to take four years of English, three years of science, and three years of social studies on top of the newest mandates – four years of math and one year of foreign language.

In the lieu of postponing, commissioners dropped a year of foreign language and abandoned the mandate that all four years of math be advanced from the original plan – a move some CSU officials say has only “watered down” standards.

“I wish they had stuck with the two years (of foreign language) and delayed implementation,” said Robin Brown, CSU vice president for admissions and access. “One year of foreign language doesn’t make sense. It should be two years or none.”

Commissioners defended the decision, saying now is not the time to “back off the challenge.”

While a more competitive education seems to be the sentiment on both sides of the fence, those in favor of postponing the requirements charge that CCHE failed to heed the five hours of testimony given by admissions officials and school districts alike.

“Almost every state university asked the commission to delay. but they said they don’t care, so nanah-nanah-boo-boo. We’ll call the shots and go home,” Rona Wilensky, principal of New Vista High School in Boulder Valley, told the Collegian Monday. “Literally, that’s what they said: ‘screw you, K-12.'”

Those who opposed the ruling said postponing the requirement until 2012 would allow high schools and universities to gather more data and provide a buffer zone for K-12 to better prepare for the change.

Wilensky, who testified before the commission last Tuesday, said the new requirements leave many high schools playing catch-up, which could affect enrollment for all Colorado universities.

“You need better math teachers, not another math teacher,” she said. “Schools will figure out a way to make this work. but the quality of the courses they offer will be crappy.”

“I think a school like CSU will see a decline in enrollment,” she added.

Alan Lamborn, vice provost for undergraduate affairs at CSU and the university representative at all CCHE meetings, said any anticipated consequences of the commission’s ruling are simply guesswork.

“It’s really, really hard to predict what will happen,” he said, though recognizing a likely drop in enrollment. “It makes me very nervous. We could end up in a situation where there are quite a few students who are able but didn’t take the classes.”

Hundreds of qualified students could fall through the cracks, Lamborn said, adding that CSU has not yet set standards as rigorous as the 2010 requirements.

But in 2008, CSU will raise its admissions standards to mirror the original 2010 requirements, which mandated four years of math-including advanced courses-and two years of foreign language.

Brown stressed that these are standards set by the university, not the state, and don’t necessarily disqualify students who don’t meet the index.

“If the student doesn’t meet the requirements, we’ll dig deeper,” she said. “We don’t want to disadvantage students because their school didn’t offer required courses.”

Across the state, many students entering college next year won’t meet requirements set to take affect in the first phase in 2008: four years of English, three years of math, three years of science and three years of social studies, among others.

This dilemma rings loudest in rural school districts, which will face the biggest battle in sending students off to college.

“It remains to be seen yet. I am concerned that these schools will never get the funding,” Brown said of rural school districts and schools in poorer areas, which historically enroll more minority students. “Access will be an issue.”

Aware of this trend, the commission plans to implement a waiver system for students from these schools.

But Lamborn and Brown say the waiver system is problematic. Students who decided to attend college late in their high school years–and therefore did not take the required courses-will likely be left behind and without waivers.

“I think the main message is it’s the state’s responsibility to give all students access,” Brown said. “They’re not going to help school districts, and it’s the students who suffer. bottom line is it’s unfair to the kids.”

While CSU and other universities are allowed to admit some students who do not meet admissions standards, Lamborn said CSU only utilized about 11 percent of its 14 percent allotment in recent years. That cushion, he added, could all but disappear by 2010 – when the second phase of the requirements go into affect and students who would have otherwise met requirements fill those gaps.

Eliminating the leeway in admissions could ultimately decrease the number of minority and first generations students entering CSU and other universities.

“Big picture across the state: CSU and CU-Boulder will suffer,” Brown said.

The standards set to take affect in 2008 and 2010 were approved in 2003. CCHE commissioners agreed to revisit the standards after the state Department of Higher Education asked the commission to delay the 2010 standards for further study.

Editor in Chief J. David McSwane can be reached at editor@collegian.com.

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