Utah Valley University to impose enrollment standards, app deadlines
Orem • Officials predict 28% of next fall's incoming students will fail to meet new criteria.
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For the first time, Utah Valley University will impose enrollment standards next fall, insisting freshman arrive with a minimum 2.5 GPA and a composite ACT score of at least 19, then maintain a C average to advance.

The move is part of a strategic plan to ensure the fast-growing Orem campus remains true to its disparate missions of the open access associated with community colleges and the academic rigor expected of a baccalaureate-degree granting institution, said UVU President Matthew Holland on Monday in a meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board.

"We're doing both with one set of faculty, one set of buildings and one set of administrators," Holland said. "This plan will provide flexibility while maintaining a gate-keeping function."

UVU will retain its status as an open-enrollment school — it just won't be as open as in the past, when students could register three weeks into a semester and take classes with little preparation as long as they held a high school diploma.

Now there will be an Aug. 1 application deadline for fall enrollment, but applicants who don't meet the new criteria can still enroll. Students 23 years and younger will be subject to the 2.5 GPA/19 ACT standard. Older applicants' eligibility for enrollment will be determined by their performance on the Accuplacer exam. Cutoff scores have yet to be determined. Transfer students must complete the UVU equivalent of Math 1010 and English 1010, with a GPA of 2.0 from their college.

Awaiting those who don't pass muster is "structured enrollment," in which they meet with academic counselors, attend orientation sessions and move "immediately and sequentially" through prescribed remedial coursework, Holland explained. These students can take nonremedial courses, but only in subjects where they have met the standards. But they must complete 24 credit hours of introductory level courses with a 2.0 GPA to advance to upper-division status.

Based on last year's data, school officials predict that 28 percent, or 1,300, of next fall's incoming students will fail to meet the new criteria.

Although it's raising its academic profile, UVU is working hard to remain an institution of "second chances" for students who did poorly in high school or matured late, but can still benefit from higher education, according to David P. Gardner, a former University of Utah president who advised Holland.

The new standards should not be construed as a sign that UVU is succumbing to "mission creep" and aspiring to be graduate-level university, he cautioned. As U. president from 1973 to 1983, Gardner was the first to impose admission standards at the state's flagship before departing for Berkeley to lead the University of California.

"[Enrollment] standards are not to keep people out, but to make sure those who come can do the work. It doesn't make sense for those who are not prepared to enroll. They roll in and then roll out," said Gardner, who returned to the U. in 2001 as a professor of educational leadership. "If we expect less of our students, they will give it to us, and if we expect more, they will try to reach that level."

The new UVU standard for ACT scores is slightly below the benchmark considered evidence of college readiness. ACT is a four-prong test taken by high school juniors, with scores of up to 36 in English, math, reading and science. The readiness benchmarks for these areas are, respectively, 18, 22, 21 and 24, for a composite of 21.25. Utah's average is just under 22.

While the standards will not lock out low achievers, Holland's move is unusual for an open-enrollment school and could serve as a model for others struggling with rapid growth in an era of declining budgets, including Utah's Dixie State College and Weber State University. These three Utah schools, along with Salt Lake Community College, will be doing much of the heavy lifting toward the state's goal of getting post-secondary degrees and certificates into the hands of 66 percent of the working-age population, up from 39 percent.

UVU's enrollment last spring stood at nearly 26,000, and officials project it could top 46,000 by 2020. It is now the fourth largest open-admission institution in the nation.

The others in the top five are Miami-Dade College, University of Maryland, University College, College of Southern Nevada and St. Petersburg College.

These schools are either massive community colleges with a handful of four-year programs, or former community colleges that have abandoned two-year education, Holland said. By contrast, UVU, itself a former community college, awards associate's and bachelor's degrees in equal measure, and plans to keep it that way.

Holland plans to create a new leadership position to champion UVU's efforts to provide two-year education and career-and-technical training.

Meanwhile, UVU also awards a limited number of graduate degrees in three professional areas. It is looking to expand graduate offerings and will establish an Office of Graduate Studies to guide that effort.

bmaffly@sltrib.com