As the state’s flagship institution for higher education, LSU’s abandonment of a minimum college board test score for admissions might have consequences beyond the main campus in Baton Rouge. Further, by acting without apparent notification to its colleagues in higher education, LSU has raised big questions about who is in charge of the structure of higher education policy in the state.

So we welcome a comprehensive audit of admissions standards at all state campuses to assess whether LSU’s unilateral move is going to cause other campuses problems.

But the duty of the Board of Regents cannot stop with an audit of the current LSU freshman class, where apparently more students have been admitted as exceptions than is generally allowed by the Regents rules.

If LSU is the flagship institution, is it served well by dropping a firm standard on a nationally recognized and more objective test? Criticism of the old rule, requiring a 22 score on the ACT college test, is that it is not a perfect predictor of college success and that a “deeper dive” into students’ other qualifications — quality of high school course, grades, essays — will identify those who can succeed at LSU.

Perhaps so. But LSU, where standards have risen because of the old policy, is certain to be academically challenging for a student who cannot manage the ACT standard of 22, out of a possible 36. At least one critic of the new policy, Regents member Richard Lipsey, argues that subjective admissions can lead to political decisions. That is not the lofty ambition of “holistic review.”

LSU President F. King Alexander states clearly that he wants to get more paying undergraduates into LSU, saying that those students are unlikely to go to other Louisiana institutions but will go elsewhere. Avidly recruiting students from Texas and elsewhere with a lower ACT score apparently is thought to be good for LSU’s bottom line.

We strongly agree with Alexander that the state’s retreat from funding for LSU and other universities has been deplorable over the past decade. Today, funding is stable, but it is hardly lavish. Every institution wants more paying customers.

The good news is not only that funding is stable but that enrollment at other campuses is also increasing. Holistic admissions have not had any apparently deleterious effect so far, although a deeper study by the Regents can better-illuminate the situation.

But the Regents members and staff should also be concerned about priorities. Louisiana has a number of fine institutions for undergraduate education. A research institution requires among other qualifications a thriving graduate school, particularly in the sciences. At best, graduate school enrollment at LSU is stable this year, after falling in recent years. Alexander said that is true of other campuses nationally, but we see it as an urgent issue for a flagship campus.

The Regents are in charge of creating a master plan for higher education. We see their duties, as well as those of LSU’s leaders, as acting on priorities other than getting students with lower ACT scores into English 101. If that’s the standard, does the “flagship” designation have any meaning at all?

— The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

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