Phi Beta Cons

Margaret Spellings and the Pope Center have a Disagreement

Even before she had done anything, incoming UNC president Margaret Spellings found herself the subject of student protests. She still hasn’t done anything, but in a recent USA Today piece, she was quoted as saying that the proposed North Carolina Guaranteed Admissions Program (NCGAP) is the “wrong solution” to the problem of students enrolling in four-year institutions where they are academically marginal and unprepared for college level work.

That assertion has led to the first disagreement with the Pope Center because we are inclined to see NCGAP as a step in the right direction. In today’s piece, Jenna Robinson offers a defense of the program. As she explains, “The program works by identifying students who satisfy UNC institutions’ official admissions criteria, but who are academically weaker than their peers. These students would be given a promiser of admission to the UNC schools to which they applied — if they complete an associate degree at a North Carolina community college within three years.”

This is intended to address one of the glaring problems with higher education in the state (and across the nation), namely that many academically weak students are drawn into four-year universities where they struggle with the work — even with the notoriously low standards that widely prevail. They would be better off starting at a community college where the focus is more about addressing their basic weaknesses in reading, writing, and math. Of course, the four-year institutions want the bodies to keep their enrollments high, but the end result is often that these students drop out. It would be better, Robinson argues for those students to at least complete an associate’s degree (after all, credentials are important even if they shouldn’t be) and make some educational progress, rather than failing to complete a BA degree.

President Spellings hasn’t put forth any competing plan. If and when she does, we will carefully evaluate it. For now, her criticism of NCGAP looks hasty and calculated to shore up support within the system.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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