Sunday, July 25, 2004

NKU makes gutsy move to raise the bar


Northern Kentucky University is an institution that knows who it is and what it wants to become. That self-confidence was clear last week as the university announced more rigorous admissions standards it hopes will raise performance and guarantee student success.

The move fits with the university's desire to become a leader in both academia and in the Northern Kentucky community. NKU's visionary president James Votruba has engineered civic and business partnerships, collaborated on a high-tech triangle and courted political support from across the commonwealth. It makes sense that the university would begin raising its own standards as it seeks an expanded statewide role.

The university has established a minimum ACT score and grade-point average for freshmen in 2005, and will raise them in 2006. It's a bold move that comes at a cost. NKU could lose 10 percent of its enrollment, and with it $1.3 million in tuition and fees.

Votruba and the Board of Regents are willing to take that gamble, believing that higher standards will draw more committed students, help ensure their success, and allow for more rigorous instruction.

The need for tougher standards was clear earlier this year when NKU posted the lowest graduation rate for any Kentucky public university. In the past, nearly half of all freshmen needed remediation.

Votruba says the changes are not intended to make NKU "exclusive" or to turn away hard-working but struggling students. Some could still be admitted after a summer remediation program. Others will be encouraged to enroll at nearby Gateway Community and Technical School and later transfer to NKU.

The point is that admission is no longer automatic and, when bestowed, comes with the university's full belief that the student can succeed.

That kind of thinking will not only raise academic standards for the university, it will challenge area high schools to raise their sights as well.

Now students must prove they're prepared on a standardized, multi-subject college entrance exam, and they'll have to show at least average performance in the classroom. By holding itself more accountable, NKU will lead high schools to do the same.

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