Pathways to Student Success to Move Forward
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 14:12
A plan to improve the quality of education at every level across the state will officially move forward and bring major changes to North Dakota’s 11 colleges and universities.
Pathways to Student Success is a complex plan now under the supervision of North Dakota University System Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen. The former Bismarck State College president took over in June after former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s 11-month stint in the position ended with a vote of no confidence.
As Pathways advances, Skogen said it will be guided by two key principles: decisions will be data-driven and each institution will have a say.
Tentatively set to begin by fall of 2015, each college and university will be divided into three tiers: research universities, regional campuses and community colleges. NDSU and UND are the state’s only research universities, but Skogen said that the tiers do not define quality.
“There’s a lot of emotion around (the tiers) because there are very good institutions across our state, and I would want to be very careful in defining tiers relative to quality,” he said.
The tiers do entail separate admissions standards that will be determined by a weighted formula. The formula takes into account an applicant’s ACT score, grade point average, high-school core classes and residency status: (ACTx3) + (GPAx20) + (Corex5) + 10 (residency).
The maximum score a student can receive is 273 if they are a North Dakota resident. At this point, 210 is the bare minimum admissions requirement for NDSU and UND. Regional universities such as Valley City State University would require a score of at least 180, and there is no minimum requirement for open-enrollment community colleges like North Dakota State College of Science.
North Dakota Student Association Vice President Michael Graff, a junior finance major, said there is still a ways to go with tweaking the formula.
“The formula isn’t necessarily perfect,” Graff said. “It’s not necessarily accomplishing what they want it to accomplish at this point.”
If this year’s freshman class had undergone the current Pathways admissions formula, more than 1,000 students—or 41 percent of the freshman population—would not have made the cut. This standard would potentially slice the rate of acceptance by over half, considering 86 percent of applicants were accepted in 2012.
Skogen said what defines a “successful student” at this point is unclear.
“I know we can define the successful student, and when we do right now, it doesn’t appear that some of our successful students at NDSU would be admitted to the school,” Skogen said.
Skogen said that 210 may not be a hard line for target admissions criteria. Once additional data is gathered, the admissions index will most likely be adjusted to meet more realistic standards.
While some see the potential benefits of Pathways, others are not on board. The Fargo Forum published an editorial last week expressing their thoughts on the program, particularly on the heightened admissions criteria.
“Implementing Shirvani’s arbitrary plan to raise admissions standards, hatched with inadequate input and not enough careful thought behind it, would slam the door shut on many of North Dakota’s sons and daughters to the state’s flagship universities,” the editorial stated.
Skogen and Graff said that a fundamental goal of Pathways is to place students into institutions that will best fit their needs. By creating a formula that is explained far before college or high school, young men and women will be able to see where they would have the most success.
“A student ought to be able to go to the institution that he or she wants to go to if they’re prepared to go (there),” Skogen said. “It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg conversation. I don’t want to bring students into institutions in which they’re going to fail.”
Failure rates, drop-out rates and remedial courses are other issues that Pathways hopes to address. Additional pieces of the Pathways puzzle include fluctuating tuition rates, better financial aid and higher-quality education from kindergarten through graduate school.
Skogen and the 11 state universities and colleges will work together over the upcoming months to tweak their finished product.
“We want students to be successful and whatever we can do to do that, we’re going to do,” Skogen said. “I just want us to move it forward really smartly.”