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Legislators should take hard look at university admissions

The University of Southern Mississippi cut out-of-state tuition by 40 percent “to reverse a 2,000-student enrollment dip by pricing a USM education below some public universities in nearby states,” reported The Clarion-Ledger.

Data from the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) shows the average percentage of out-of-state students attending Mississippi public universities is 30 percent. The averages for each university are: Alcorn State University 24 percent, Delta State University 17 percent, Jackson State University 23 percent, Mississippi State University 34 percent, Mississippi University for Women 15 percent, Mississippi Valley State University 23 percent, Ole Miss 41 percent and Southern Miss 21 percent.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn led a panel of lawmakers discussing the high costs of education in Mississippi to focus in on “the $35 million colleges and universities spend annually on remediation for students that need extra help once they get to college,” reported Mississippi Today.

Enrolling under-prepared students impacts graduation rates. IHL data shows the average six-year graduation rate for Mississippi public universities is 50 percent. The rates for each university are: Alcorn State 34 percent, Delta State 36 percent, Jackson State 39 percent, Mississippi State 61 percent, Mississippi University for Women 39 percent, Mississippi Valley State 26 percent, Ole Miss 59 percent and Southern Miss 45 percent.

“Mississippi’s postsecondary education system as a whole awards fewer bachelor’s degrees than the national average,” reported BestColleges.com.

Hmmm.

The above information suggests our high schools are doing a poor job preparing students for university level work, we let far too many under-prepared students into our universities and we’re having to hustle out-of-state students to keep our universities filled up.

Nevertheless, MSU President Mark Keenum, DSU President William LaForge and IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce “warned legislators that continued declines in state funding could cause serious damage to public universities,” reported Mississippi Today.

University officials appear to want more money to keep doing what they’ve been doing without promising better results. Albert Einstein called doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results “insanity.”

Business leaders in Mississippi have suggested that raising university admission standards could eliminate the need for remediation, dramatically improve graduation rates and significantly reduce costs.

Gunn’s group also discussed the admission standards, reported Mississippi Today. The report said Boyce called them “one of the lowest” set of standards in the nation and that he and university presidents have begun discussing the pros and cons of the current standards for both in- and out-of-state students. He called access to higher education a pro.

“We don’t want to cut that access off,” he said.

Hmmm.

So which is more important — access or success?

Access to near-certain failure at universities might be worth cutting off, particularly when access to community colleges is a viable, more affordable alternative.

There is no doubt Mississippi needs many more university graduates. But that doesn’t mean we need to underprice tuition to attract out-of-state students or allow thousands of under-prepared students to enroll.

State money is tight. Pouring more money into a flawed system seems ill-advised, if not insane.

Legislators should take a hard look at university admission standards and out-of-state tuition.

While raising admission standards and out-of-state tuition prices would be controversial and opposed by most universities, scarce budget dollars dictate hard looks across the board.

Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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