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Louisiana senator seeks to undo admission criteria penalties

1 month 1 week 4 days ago Thursday, February 27 2020 Feb 27, 2020 February 27, 2020 4:53 AM February 27, 2020 in News
Source: Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After Louisiana’s higher education policy-making board toughened admissions criteria for public universities, the chairman of the state Senate’s education committee immediately filed legislation aimed at undoing the financial penalties added for schools that violate the standards.

Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, argues that the Board of Regents lacks the authority to strip money from universities that repeatedly breach the admissions criteria. He wants lawmakers to declare the board can’t follow through on those new penalties.

“The board does not have the constitutional authority to appropriate state funds or take funds away from an institution, regardless of admission standards, and this bill will make that clear,” Fields said in a statement Monday.

The Board of Regents added the threat of financial penalties for campuses that disobey its minimum admission standards in a rewrite of the 15-year-old standards approved last week without objection.

The board, which divvies up most state financing for public college campuses through its funding formula, has never penalized schools for not complying with admissions criteria. Under the new rules, regents would have to vote to strip any money from a school — and the threat of reduced funding doesn’t come unless a school has breached the policy for two consecutive years.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed and her staff led the rewrite after LSU sparked criticism for breaching the requirements and granting more exceptions than allowed. All of the state’s university systems said they supported the updated standards, including the penalties.

Fields would nullify the financial penalties in his proposal, which lawmakers will consider in the legislative session that begins March 9. The state senator said the measure clarifies that only the Legislature can appropriate money, regardless of admission policies.

Reed didn’t directly comment on Fields’ proposal, but defended the updated policy in a statement Wednesday.

“I am pleased that we received unanimous support from all four systems and our board for this new policy,” she said. “The higher education community is united in our belief that our master planning efforts can effectively drive improved performance and increased attainment in our state.”

Louisiana’s public two-year community colleges are open admission. But the Board of Regents first started requiring admissions standards for public four-year universities in 2005, mandating that freshmen meet certain grade point averages, college entrance exam scores or other benchmarks. The standards — and the percentage of exceptions allowed — vary depending on the type of campus, with LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge having the toughest admissions requirements.

Supporters say the standards help steer students to the schools that are the best fit for them.

The admissions criteria, Reed said, “not only addresses the changing enrollment needs of all four college and university systems but also reinforced our commitment to admitting students where they are most likely to be successful.”

Barry Erwin, head of the nonpartisan Council for A Better Louisiana, which closely follows education issues, said Fields’ bill would be a “big backward step” in higher education.

With its master plan and funding formula, the Board of Regents has put more discipline and planning into Louisiana’s public college systems, defining the missions of campuses, Erwin said.

“I do not think the Legislature should be sticking its nose into how the Board of Regents develops and administers its master plan, and I think that’s what this does,” he said Wednesday.

The proposal is among several bills Fields has filed seeking to restrict Board of Regents’ activities. A separate measure would shift authority for setting admissions criteria to Louisiana’s public college systems and away from the regents, and a third bill would limit the board’s authority over financing.

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