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EDITORIAL: Long past time for NSC to raise admissions standards

The debate shouldn’t focus on whether Nevada State College officials are wise to raise admission standards. The question should instead be: Are they raising them high enough?

As the Review-Journal’s Meghin Delaney reported recently, NSC is considering raising its minimum high school GPA requirement from 2.0 to 2.5. School officials say its rapid growth is the impetus behind the proposal. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports NSC has been the second-fastest-growing baccalaureate institute in the country since 2016. Enrollment rose 12 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2018.

On the surface, rising enrollment looks like a good thing. More students in college translates into more people entering the workforce with four-year degrees. Ergo, more people obtain higher-paying jobs. That would be an especially positive development in Clark County, which lags the nation in the percentage of its population holding bachelor’s degrees. Throw in NSC’s focus on nursing and teaching degrees, and it would appear as if the college should be expanding to meet local needs.

Except that’s not what’s happening at NSC — or at any of Nevada’s publicly funded four-year colleges. Most students never receive degrees. In the fall of 2016, NSC’s one-year retention rate was just 75 percent. One in four students didn’t even make it a year before dropping out. On average, that’s the worst possible outcome. Students waste a year and likely leave saddled with student loans that didn’t improve their future earning potential. Taxpayers, who support higher education, take a loss, too.

In the past 10 years, the highest four-year graduation rate at NSC was 38 percent. The highest six-year graduation rate was 40 percent.

These figures should have alerted college officials long ago that they needed to raise admission standards. Many of those who leave do so because they are unprepared for the rigors of university academics. Unfortunately, the proposed change would have disqualified only 63 students if it had been in place this semester. For a college of 4,900 students, that’s meaningless. NSC should raise the GPA requirement to 2.75. In an ideal world, the college would raise it even higher.

Critics will no doubt argue the change will exclude too many students and narrow available opportunities for local high school graduates. But setting up students to fail does a disservice to all involved. If more applicants need to take the community college route to become fully prepared to succeed at the next level, the system — and the students — will be stronger for it.

Increasing admission standards is a good first step. But there is much more work to do.

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