The Kansas Board of Regents recently approved a requirement that will increase the academic admission standards at the University of Kansas effective in 2016. I have mixed feelings about this move.
But first, let me disclose a few matters. When the Boss Lady and I went to KU, there was an open admission policy. Anyone with a Kansas high school diploma could enter KU. (We were, at best, B- students.) The school, which was growing rapidly during the 1960s, certainly could get rid of students quickly if they didn’t make at least a “C” average. Many students dropped out, particularly in their freshmen years; administrators complained that it was not the university’s place to teach remedial courses– stuff they should have learned in high school.
Entrance requirements were implemented several years ago. Today, those requirements vary depending on the course of study. A student entering the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences must have at least a “C” average; those going into journalism must have a “B” average. The new requirement says that students must have at least a “B” average to get into KU.
My concern that this new requirement will add substance to the image problem that KU already has– that it is an elitist institution. This goes way beyond the comments from K-State folks who say that Jayhawks are from “Snob Hill.” Folks on Mt. Oread might argue that they need this new requirement to be the best stewards of precious money from already overburdened taxpayers.
But the issue is much more complex. Let’s look at the basics. The taxpaying residents of Kansas– not administrators, faculty members or a very successful athletic coach– own KU. And KU is not just a high-class institution for upper middle-class white kids from Southern Johnson County.
Over the years, one of the complaints I have heard is that taxpayers pay to educate KU students, only to see them leave the state. An extensive newspaper series of articles dealt with this issue several years ago. A subsequent series dealt with those KU alums who returned to Kansas after their kids were born. My concern is that KU has not done enough in working with business and industry to create jobs that will keep their graduates here.
To KU’s credit, its School of Education has provided many excellent classroom teachers; several have become administrators. KU needs to do more to help improve education generally in the state, particularly from kindergarten through high school.
I discussed the issue with our daughter Kim who is also a KU graduate. She too has mixed feelings about the new requirements.
Here is her scenario of a student who might want to go to KU:
“A student is a graduate of Schlagle High School. She wanted to go to Sumner Academy, but just missed the academic requirement. Her mother, a high school dropout who is divorced and receives no child support from the father, has to work two jobs just to pay for the basics. The mother has little time to help mentor the daughter; the daughter is well behaved and participates school activities. Her guidance counselor describes her as a ‘late bloomer. ‘”
Daughter Kim asked if such a student should be denied an education at KU. I would ask the same question. I should point out that such a student could seek a review from KU administrators that would consider such things as the difficulty of courses taken, improving grades and personal challenges.
I see that the only Regent who voted against the change was Janie Perkins of Garden City. She offered no comment about her vote according to a daily newspaper report. I would note however, that she comes from an area in Southwestern Kansas that has changed dramatically during the past several years with a substantial influx of Hispanics and Asians who work for low and moderate wages in meat processing plants.
Someone once told me that if a public institution tries to be everything to everybody, it ends up being nothing to nobody. That may be true. But KU belongs to the entire state and should never lose sight of the bigger picture.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.