Reconsidering Open Enrollment

One historically black college takes a first step toward changing its longstanding admissions policy, while another's president makes reference to a similar goal.
February 27, 2008

Two historically black colleges that have long been open to any student who graduates high school or passes an equivalency test could be changing their admissions policies if their presidents get their way.

George T. French Jr., president of Miles College, in Alabama, has charged a task force with reviewing the institution's open enrollment policy with the aim of "creating a more stringent, selective admissions process," according to a statement from French.

The group is looking at enrollment patterns of peer institutions and expects to make a recommendation to the president this academic year, with the possibility of putting a new admissions policy in place by as early as the fall, according to the university. Trustees must first sign off on the decision.

French said in the statement that the college's "liberal" policy of admissions has served the college well, but that it's time for a change.

“We are serving a different clientele and in a different arena than the past," his statement says. "Additionally, serious-minded students should be given the benefit of matriculating with peers who share similar values and are serious about their education. While it is not the college’s goal to exclude, we have a responsibility to our students, faculty and staff to cultivate an atmosphere which is safe, civil and conducive to learning.” (That last reference is, perhaps, explained by the fact that Miles had a recent shooting on its campus.)

Geraldine W. Bell, a professor and director of Miles's Learning Resource Center, who heads the task force, said the committee of mostly faculty and administrators will probably consider what role high school grades and standardized tests should play in admissions decisions, as well as whether the college should require an essay.

"I hope that we can improve the quality of students who are attending -- those who are interested in obtaining a higher education," Bell said, adding that it's her impression that some students there lack the motivation needed to succeed.

Department of Education statistics put Miles's graduation rate at 50 percent.

John M. Rudley, president of Texas Southern University, has indicated that he'd also like to see changes to his institution's open enrollment policy in order to increase its sagging graduation rate, which the department lists at hovering around 12 percent.

"A university shouldn't have to accept anybody with a GED," The Houston Chronicle quoted Rudley as saying. "That means they didn't complete high school but they can come here without the same preparation as others and then be expected to compete."

That article quoted a Texas Southern professor as saying that many alumni and parents would be unlikely to go along with the change.

Proponents of open enrollment typically argue that the policies are in line with some colleges' missions of serving the most academically needy students.

The conversation comes at a time when Texas Southern is on a 12-month probation from its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, for failing to comply with standards relating to governance, financial management and other administrative issues.

The university said in a statement that the issues raised by SACS aren't related to its academic programming and are a reflection of "past troubles."

Rudley, who began as president earlier this month, replaced Priscilla Slade, who was fired after being charged with using hundreds of thousands of dollars in university funds for personal purchases. (An interim president had been in place since late 2006.)


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