Politics & Government

Kansas just changed how students get into universities, and a significant rule is gone

More students will qualify for Kansas universities after the elimination of a rule that they take courses in English, math and science in order to be admitted.

Kansas will also stop considering class rank in university admissions.

Instead, a roughly C or C+ high school grade point average will soon get students into most schools.

The Kansas Board of Regents voted unanimously Wednesday to change the requirements. Regents said 87 percent of Kansas high school graduates will qualify for admission to four of six public universities under the new rules. It’s unclear how many qualify now.

But officials said they are not lowering the bar.

“I don’t think we lowered anything. If anything, I think we might have tightened it a little bit,” Regent Mark Hutton said of the new standards. None of the regents spoke in opposition.

Regents say more students will qualify for admission at Wichita State University, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University and Pittsburg State University. A “high quantity of students who are not currently admissible will gain admission eligibility” to those schools under the new standards, according to a regents report.

Under the new standards, students to those schools and Kansas State University will need:

an ACT score of 21

or a GPA of 2.25 (3.25 at K-State)

The old standards at those schools required students to have:

an ACT score of 21

or rank in the top third of their class

and complete a pre-college curriculum of English, math, natural science, social science and electives with a GPA of 2.0 for in-state students

The University of Kansas is not changing its admission standards other than to eliminate the curriculum requirement. Students there will still need:

an ACT score of 21 and a GPA of 3.25

or a ACT score of 24 and a GPA of 3.0

Daniel Archer, the regents’ vice president for academic affairs, said the move away from class rank and the curriculum requirement simplifies the admissions system. He said reviewing college applications is onerous now because applicants must list all their classes.

“We aimed to really simplify the process and we tried to take out some of the bureaucracy,” Archer said.

Andy Tompkins, the interim president for Wichita State University, said he wasn’t sure how many additional applicants the university might attract through the new standards.

Collectively, the changes mark a break with years of Kansas admission standards.

For decades, the state allowed any Kansas high school graduate to attend its public universities. But in the mid-90s, lawmakers approved admission standards — making Kansas the last state to implement standards. The requirements went into effect in 2001.

The elimination of the curriculum requirement comes as school districts across the state engage in a redesign project promoted by the Kansas State Department of Education. Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the proposal has the potential to give districts more flexibility in what courses they offer.

“One of the things we often hear about school redesign is … you have to make sure you offer the courses to get into college,” Tallman said. “So if that’s taken away, it’s more flexibility.”

On the other hand, Tallman cautioned that sending more students to college isn’t necessarily a good thing if they’re not prepared.

Although the regents approved the change unanimously, regents chairman Shane Bangerter questioned officials first about the elimination of the curriculum requirement.

“How do you then make sure a student just doesn’t take the very easiest path and then think that student is going to be ready for college?” Bangerter said.

Archer responded that in order to graduate high school in Kansas, students still need several units of English, math, science and other areas. And, he said, GPA is a more reliable indicator of college readiness than class rank.

“The class rank is also flawed because it can really fluctuate from semester to semester,” Archer said, calling it a “moving target.”

Brad DeMers, the student body president of Fort Hays State University, said he graduated high school in Osceola, Neb., in a class of 21.

“I mean that’s a pretty small margin of error, if you don’t make it there,” DeMers said.

Admissions standards in nearby states vary widely.

Research institutions in Missouri, such as the University of Missouri, look at both ACT scores and high school GPA. In general, the higher your ACT score, the lower your GPA can be for admission and vice versa.

Nebraska requires students to either score a 20 on the ACT or rank in the top half of their class. In Arkansas, an ACT score of 20 and a high school GPA of 3.0 is needed to attend the University of Arkansas.

“We’re actually still lower than most of peer universities — other states — as it relates to admission standards,” Hutton said.

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.