- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Board of Higher Education on Thursday approved a strategic plan meant to improve graduation and student retention rates, but the board did not endorse admission standards that were revised from an earlier proposal criticized by university administrators for being too tough.

The plan updates the “Pathways to Student Success” program that was promoted by former university system chancellor Hamid Shirvani before the board bought out his contract in July 2013. The proposal was born out of criticism from lawmakers who primarily wanted the state’s two research institutions rated higher in national publications.

The University of North Dakota is No. 168 and North Dakota State University is No. 181 in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of national universities.

The Pathways proposal was re-visited after college presidents complained they didn’t have a voice in the plan and other university officials believed the strict admission standards would lead to declining enrollments and keep out some students who could earn degrees. The plan unveiled Thursday includes recommendations by a task force that are tougher than current standards but not as strict as the Pathways proposal.

Under the new formula, UND and NDSU would be required to raise the minimum ACT score to 22 from 21 and minimum high school grade point average to 2.75 from 2.5.

The board said Thursday it needed more time to look into the new admission requirements and will discuss them in detail at a later date.

“That is something that has never come before the board,” board member Grant Shaft said, referring to the standards. “I still think board members should have an opportunity to have a face-to-face discussion on it.”

The Pathways plan had a proposed admissions index based upon a combination of high school grade point average, core courses and ACT college entrance exam scores. The task force recommended admission guidelines that include exceptions where a higher GPA could counter a lower ACT score.

“The task force believes it is virtually impossible to determine a fair index score that would admit the students with the best chance of success while not denying those who might also be successful,” the group wrote in its proposal. “A guideline approach is consistent with national research and best practices, is clear and understandable to students, and will result in an enrollment-neutral outcome.”

Shaft said it’s not his intention “to blow the whole task force recommendation,” but said it needs more discussion. The new admission standards would go into effect in fall 2016 and be fully implemented for students enrolling in fall 2018.

“I would rather at least pass this out with the understanding that we are going to have a period of time as a board where we can have a very robust discussion with the time we need and not putting a square peg into a round hole,” Shaft said.

Other goals in the plan include keeping tuition and fees at or below the regional average, increasing enrollment of nonresident and nontraditional students, and increase collaboration among the 11 colleges and universities.

Larry Skogen, the interim chancellor, said the plan incorporates many of the suggestions in the Pathways proposal and still gives each college the ability to set school-specific goals.

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