RENO — Nevada high school students planning to enroll in one of the state’s two universities in 2008 will not get a pass on a new, tougher 3.0 grade-point-average requirement, the Board of Regents decided Thursday.
The vote to maintain the increase, from the 2.75 GPA now required in 13 required high school courses, came despite concerns about a report showing a dramatic falloff of minority student enrollments at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Instead of delaying the GPA increase at UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno, regents agreed to boost the percentage of alternate admissions — to 15 percent from 10 percent — to accommodate students who don’t have a high enough GPA but do have special skills in areas such as art, music or athletics.
Special admissions can also address situations in which students have overcome adversities, as well as other factors that point to the likelihood that the student will be successful.
The vote was 10-2, with Regents Cedric Crear and Ron Knecht voting no.
Crear said he believed the entire admissions process needs review.
Knecht said the increase in special admissions under a formula approved by regents would be too large. The 5 percentage point increase is based on a larger pool of students — those accepted to an institution, not the smaller number who actually enroll.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ minority enrollment was hit particularly hard when the required GPA rose from 2.5 to 2.75 last year.
Early data by Nevada System of Higher Education shows that the number of black freshmen enrolling at UNLV plummeted nearly 30 percent between fall 2005 and fall 2006. The number of Hispanic students dropped roughly 17 percent, and the university experienced a drop in Asian and Pacific islander students of nearly 7 percent.
The effect at UNR was more muted. Black freshman admissions actually increased more than 27 percent from 2005 to 2006, while Hispanic admissions dropped more than 13 percent.
Vice Chancellor Jane Nichols called the report a snapshot and not a long-term analysis of the effect of the GPA increase. Other factors, including changes to the Millennium Scholarship requirements, could also be in play, she said.
The system won’t know if this is a trend until there is at least one more year’s worth of data from this fall enrollment period, Nichols said.
The vote to maintain the standard came despite concerns expressed by Lee Rowland, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, that the drop-off in minority enrollment at UNLV was “truly troubling.”
Rather than use some numerical formula to try to determine student success, it would be better to use a more holistic approach, like looking at students and their abilities to succeed, she said.
Such a process would move the universities toward their goals of being world-class institutions which includes a diverse student population, Rowland said.
Regent Mark Alden advocated for maintaining the GPA increase, saying that admitting students who are unable to succeed, and who then drop out, does not serve them well.
The system has two other tiers, including colleges and a state college, to serve students who might not be able to succeed at the university level, he said.
UNLV President David Ashley said his preferred alternative was to push back the 3.0 GPA increase, but that the increase in special admissions was also acceptable.
Chancellor Jim Rogers said the business community has reacted favorably to efforts by the Board of Regents to improve the quality of the education being delivered at the institutions.
“I hate to go backwards,” he said. “I just hate to go backwards.”
But Rogers said he is also concerned about any negative effects on minority students.
Considering other factors for student admissions may be the answer, he said.
The concepts of raising standards and maintaining and improving diversity should work together, he said.
Rogers acknowledged that the discussion about delaying the GPA increase was generating some concerns among legislative leaders. The Legislature sets the funding levels for the higher education system.
The regents, while voting in 2006 to toughen the standards, also sought a report on the effects of the change, with the proviso that the new standards could be adjusted if there was a major effect on student enrollment and diversity.
But Nichols said one year’s worth of data is not enough information to make any determination about the effect of the GPA increase.
While minority freshman admissions declined in the fall of 2006 over 2005, it is also true that overall admissions declined as well, by 19 percent at UNLV, according to the report.
Other than Rowland, there was no other public or student comment.
Student leaders at the regents meeting at the UNR campus listened to the discussion but offered no public comments.