This editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:
Instead of admitting marginally qualified high school graduates to UNC system campuses where they will likely struggle, why not steer them to two years of community college first?
That’s the question leading Republicans in the legislature want answered. They say too many marginal students are racking up student debt and washing out at UNC campuses when they might have been better served attending a two-year school.
No more than 20 percent of UNC’s least-qualified admittees ever graduate from UNC campuses, said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who chairs the House education appropriations committee.
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Under the N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program, students who accept the community college detour and finish an associate’s degree within three years would be able to complete their bachelor’s degree at the UNC school they originally sought.
Last fall, GOP leaders placed in the state budget a directive for UNC and community college officials to study how such a program might work and to report back by March 1.
It’s a win-win proposition, Horn told the editorial board last week. Students get lower tuition bills, extra preparation for the rigors of UNC work and an associate’s degree along the way. Even if they drop out, he said, they’d leave with less debt.
UNC system officials are worried about the proposal. We have questions, too. It raises a host of issues with far-reaching consequences for families and universities.
For instance, what yardsticks would be used to determine who qualifies as marginal? Would deferral be a friendly suggestion to the student, or a direct order?
UNC campuses would surely lose funding. How much would they lose, and what would they have to cut to balance shrinking budgets?
UNC officials note that their graduation rates remain above the national average, and that a quarter of their students enter as transfers. Half of those transfers come from N.C. community colleges, reflecting a growing collaboration already at work between the systems.
Lawmakers would be well-advised to remember that North Carolina’s college readiness problem begins long before college. Our high school graduation rate stands at an impressive 85 percent, but nearly half of N.C. high school graduates fail to meet any of the four ACT college readiness benchmarks.
The report lawmakers directed UNC and community college leaders to compile is expected to be unveiled in February. Horn says he’s keeping an open mind.
Given the tense relations of late between legislative and UNC leaders, we hope all GOP leaders will exercise similar restraint, and that parents and students pay close attention to this critical debate.
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