There is an on-going tug of war in the University of North Carolina system (and, I’m sure, many other state systems) between the desire of some administrators to have such low admission standards that they’ll be able to admit almost any applicant, and the desire of the board of governors to keep standards high enough that students who don’t seem to have the academic ability to do real college work will either go to a community college or pursue some other option. In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron examines a recent decision to allow three institutions, North Carolina Central, Elizabeth City State, and Fayetteville State, all HBCUs, to admit applicants with SAT scores as low as 750 — down from 800.
An argument in favor of this change is that high school records are better predictors of academic success than are SAT scores. Supposedly, a substantial number of students who score poorly on the SAT (and a combined score below 800 is very poor indeed) can nevertheless do well enough in college courses that they can remain in school and eventually graduate. Putting aside the obvious rejoinder that today a large percentage of college grads who had much better SAT scores are unemployed or underemployed and therefore just making it through college is a questionable benefit, is it true that students who have low SAT (or ACT) scores but high school GPAs that are “good enough” can handle university work, even as easy as it often is these days?
I doubt that. We’re talking about students whose K-12 education has left them with pitiably weak basic skills. High schools will try to make their best students look like college material (as in the case of Kashawn Campbell, which I wrote about here), but that simply masks their academic deficiencies. Enrolling such students in 4-year universities puts those schools in the remedial education business, even if it isn’t acknowledged to be that. Of course some of them will make it through to their BA degrees, but we know that having a degree these days isn’t necessarily worth anything.