Advisory group considers higher UAF admission standards

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A group of Fairbanks business leaders, students and university officials is considering a recommendation to make it harder to gain admission into a baccalaureate program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Raising admission standards, according to members of the UAF Vision Task Force, would change the college's image for academic vigor.

"The group felt like the university sometimes paints a picture of itself and sometimes comes across as perhaps not as academically strong as we think it really is," said Kevin Huddy, director of residence life for UAF, who headed a subcommittee on improving enrollment and retention. "We want to change the image."

The 55 task force members were told by UAF Chancellor Steve Jones to come up with recommendations for improving the university in time for UAF's 100th birthday in 2017. Jo Heckman, president and CEO of Denali State Bank, and Kevin Hostler, president and CEO of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., chaired the group.

Starting in 2008, students who want to enter a baccalaureate program at UAF will need an ACT score of at least 18 out of a possible high score of 36. The ACT is a standardized achievement examination.

Huddy's committee and others on the task force would like to raise that benchmark to 21.

The difference is substantial. Only about 44 percent of those who take the ACT test each year earn a score of 21 or higher. By comparison, 67 percent of test takers score 18 or above.

If it's academically harder to get into a baccalaureate program, Huddy said, then the students who do get in will be better prepared for college and will be more likely to graduate.

"All of this is to improve our retention statistics and our graduation statistics," he said.

Additionally, some members of the task force would like to see the university require potential students to write an essay as part of the admission process. That's a common requirement at universities, Huddy said.

They also want to see students more accountable for their grades in college and face tougher sanctions, such as losing financial aid, when grades slip.

UAF student leaders like the ideas.

"I think the application process is really easy right now," said Lacie Grosvold, the managing editor of the Sun Star, the student-run newspaper. "If students really want to go to college they shouldn't have a big issue with writing an essay or scoring higher on the ACT."

Jake Hamburg, president of the Associated Students of UAF, said the changes would not keep students from attending UAF but would help the university identify students who were not ready for college classes.

Applicants scoring lower than a 21 on the ACT would be admitted into a sort of probationary status and would receive extra counseling.

Hamburg and Grosvold were wary of another recommendation - setting higher academic standards for scholarships. Limiting scholarships might scare applicants away, Grosvold said.

"I wouldn't have come up (to Alaska) if I had not gotten a scholarship my freshman year," she said.

"I certainly hope the university will get behind a needs-based scholarship program so we aren't limiting access to the university," Hamburg said.

The Vision Task Force will meet again in November to put together final recommendations for Jones.

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