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Proposed UW admission standards raise concerns

The University of Wyoming is proposing changes in its admission standards, and local school officials are concerned that one of the changes might have a negative impact on vocational and arts programs at the high school level.

Currently, the university’s admission policy has two categories of admission. A student is assured of admission if he or she has a high school grade point average of 3.0 or better or a GPA of 2.75 and an ACT score of 20, and has taken a minimum of four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies during their high school careers. Students may be admitted with a GPA as low as 2.25 if they have an ACT score of 20, without regard to the curriculum they have completed.

The proposed standard for assured admission raises the required ACT score to 21 and requires a 3.0 GPA.  In addition, it adds the requirement of two years of foreign language to the required curriculum requirements.

Conditional admission would be replaced under the proposal to a policy of admission with support. Students still would be admitted with a GPA of 2.25 and could vary from the curriculum requirements for assured admission, but they would be admitted “with support.” They would be required to participate in “Synergy,” a program through which they would receive additional support to help them succeed in college.  The “Synergy” program is available currently, but it is voluntary.

UW administrators conducted town hall meetings around the state, including one in Cody concerning the new requirements. Concerns about the addition of two years of foreign language to the requirements have been raised at those meetings.

Both R.J. Kost, curriculum director for District No. 1, and Powell High School Principal Bill Schwan said last week that the addition of a foreign language requirement raises concerns about programs in career and technical education and fine and performing arts. Kost said curriculum coordinators from nearly all districts in the state have expressed those concerns.

“We’re disappointed that they are still requiring two years of foreign langauage,” Kost said. “We’re struggling with it right now, and we’re trying to let UW know. It chokes down our curriculum offerings, and that’s very disturbing.”

The proposed new standards bring the university’s admission requirement in line with the Hathaway Success Curriculum mandated by the Wyoming Legislature for students to qualify for the highest level of the state’s Hathaway Scholarships. Those requirements include two years of foreign language, despite an attempt in the 2011 session of the Legislature to allow students to substitute two years of fine arts or career and technical education for the foreign language requirement.

Both the Hathaway Success Curriculum and the new assured admission requirements are aimed at making sure students are prepared for college, but Kost said he questions whether two years of foreign language does that.

“I’d like to ask (UW), ‘Do you have proof that two years of foreign language makes you a better college student?’” Kost said.

Kost said if foreign language is to be required, it would be much more effective if it began early in a child’s education rather than waiting until high school.

Kost said the current requirements have already “limited kids’ possibilities,” by limiting their opportunities to explore vocational and arts courses. While he doesn’t question the need for a more challenging curriculum, he said career and technical education classes and the arts can contribute to that foundation as much as foreign language.

“Obviously students need to develop an academic foundation,” Kost said, “but I think UW is losing sight of the big picture with this requirement.”

Part of the problem, Kost said, is that many people don’t realize the changes in career and technology education.

“These are not the vocational courses they used to be. They are changing and are becoming highly technical,” Kost said. “In our robotics class, for instance, it’s not just about building robots, its about kids learning physics, math, mechanics and computer programming and using them to solve a problem.”

Schwan echoed Kost’s concerns. He said the impact will not be immediate, but career and technical education and arts classes will take a hit down the road. He already has seen a reduction in the number of students completing programs such as welding by staying in them for three years, and noted that the number of students staying with the band through four years has declined. He believes those are indications of what is to come.

“We’re seeing scratches on the surface,” Schwan said, “and they are going to get deeper. The noose is tightening on some of these programs.”

The new admissions standards still are under discussion and are expected to be considered at the UW Board of Trustees’ November meeting. If adopted, they would take effect in 2013. UW officials have stressed that under the new standards, any student who would be admitted under the current standards still would be admitted under the new ones.

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