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Citing Student Influx, Va. Panel Urges Tighter College-Admissions Standards

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Virginia's public colleges and universities should adopt stricter admissions standards in order to channel the state's growing number of postsecondary students into the proper institutions, a state advisory panel urged last week.

The recommendation was included in reports issued by the Council of Higher Education, which noted that 65,000 additional students are expected to swell Virginia's enrollment ranks by 2001.

To reduce state costs, the panel also suggested, the state should urge some students to complete certain degree programs in three years and encourage colleges to review degree programs that call for more than the 120 credits typically required for graduation.

The reports, which were mandated by the legislature, are considered primers for state officials on standards and on the most cost-effective ways to cope with the expected influx of students.

"I think what's happening here is we're in a rare moment when the academic and curricular planning ... just crossed demography,'' said Gordon K. Davies, the director of the 11-member council. "There's a necessity and a desirability.''

Mr. Davies said the two reports, "Higher Education for the 21st Century'' and "The Continuum of Instruction,'' will be followed next month with a report on restructuring colleges and universities. That study, he said, will focus on streamlining institutional administration, trimming curricula, and teaching.

The recommendations on standards would place Virginia among a growing number of states and institutions that are beefing up their admissions standards. (See Education Week, May 15, 1991.)

By adopting stricter standards by 1996, the council argued, the Old Dominion's four-year institutions will be able to "move students through to graduation at a quicker pace, freeing space for other students.''

The council proposed that four-year institutions require student applicants to attain the state's Advanced Studies Diploma, which consists of 23, rather than the usual 20, credits for graduation.

The panel also called on institutions to set high grade-point and standardized-test standards, while acknowledging that each institutions should be able to set its own requirements in accord with its specific mission.

Role of Community Colleges

Students not able to meet the standards would begin their collegiate careers at community colleges, where all remedial courses would take place, according to the recommendation. Students could receive joint admission to two-year and four-year schools under the plan.

But students who would not benefit from a community-college education should not be admitted, the council said. The report did not outline how community colleges should determine whether a prospective student could succeed at that level.

Mr. Davies said he was sensitive to critics who charge that such approaches harm students from weak K-12 programs. "This is not a matter of discarding human beings,'' he said. "This is a matter of finding the institution or agency that best meets their needs.''

Three-Year Graduation

In addition to calling for higher standards, the council said there should be greater use of curricula on the secondary level that allow students to get credit for college work.

That would enable students to graduate from college in just three years, the panel pointed out, thus saving the state a year's worth of educational subsidy. Such curricula include Advanced Placement examinations, International Baccalaureate courses, and dual enrollment.

In other recommendations on efficiency, the council encouraged state colleges to examine their core education and degree requirements, to use full professors to introduce students to their discipline, and to study whether course scheduling creates a barrier to graduation.

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