Lower admission standards at historically black universities

Published October 31, 2014

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell, Executive Producer and Moderator, NC SPIN, October 30, 2014.

The UNC Board of Governors perhaps opened a can of worms by allowing three historically black universities to lower their SAT admission standards. The move might be the spark needed for more meaningful discussions.

For whatever the reason North Carolina hasn’t done right by these historically black universities (HBUs) in funding, in capital improvements but most especially in oversight. Concerned about high drop outs from students who could not do college level work the BOG raised academic admission requirements several years ago to 800 on the SAT, a 17 on the ACT or a 2.5 high school GPA. Enrollments dropped precipitously at several HBUs, in part because of the economy, but more likely because many students who could meet the higher standards could and chose to attend other institutions. It appears they are now backing away from those standards.

Last week’s action allows admissions officers at three of these HBUs flexibility on SAT scores if the student’s GPA is higher than average. The hotly debated measure passed for several reasons. Growing evidence indicates the SAT is not an accurate predictor of how well a student will perform in college. Wake Forest University dropped the SAT; many schools now believe the ACT a more accurate barometer.

The move also acknowledges that despite North Carolina’s guarantee of a “sound basic education,” some high schools, especially in rural areas, don’t deliver as high a quality education as others. Besides, some kids just don’t do well on timed, standardized tests. North Carolina has many economically disadvantaged kids who deserve a shot at higher education and, if properly motivated, can do well.

BOG members assure us this lowered admission standard wasn’t just an effort to put bodies in seats, but perhaps it will prompt a debate we have put off far too long. Many of our historically black universities are not providing students the quality education we would desire.

It is time for an honest self-examination. Several of these HBUs are located in regions where there is no nearby public university. Sadly, they are not the school of choice for most students, especially white students, who live close to them. We want the UNC System to have racial balance but Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State and Winston-Salem State remain predominantly segregated. Why is this so? Just as we once asked what was needed to get more minority students to attend UNC, NC State, ECU and UNC Charlotte its time to examine what must change to get more white students to attend the HBUs.

Other questions: Why hasn’t our state adequately funded these institutions? Are there too many of them? Is the education not comparable? Are program offerings not unique? Are whites and other races not treated well? Are faculties not qualified? Are extracurricular activities attractive enough? Are they poorly run?

We hope lower admission standards don’t also mean a lowering of academic standards. While the current trial might yield improved enrollments the larger issues facing HBUs are not going away and deserve addressing. If our state is going to continue to offer higher education at these schools, and we should, they must transform into schools of excellence. NC A&T and North Carolina Central have proved this can be done, but first we must acknowledge the need for change.

October 31, 2014 at 8:45 am
Richard Bunce says:

The failure of traditional K-12 government schools is very evident and the need for education vouchers never clearer.