At 21.4, the average composite ACT for first-time freshmen is about half a point higher than it was a year ago, according to statistical data provided by the university. The change isn’t drastic, but administrators say it’s significant.
“It does reflect for us a characteristic of our freshmen class that is a readiness for college course work,” said Rebecca Turner, vice president for academic and student affairs. “For the students it means that they have a good likelihood of succeeding in college.”
Turner said the average was boosted by an increase in the number of students attending on academic scholarships. Those students with an ACT score at or above 26 are eligible to receive them; the university significantly increased the number of those awarded in 2010.
The news also comes on the heels of tightened academic standards for both conditionally and unconditionally admitted students. For the first year, unconditionally admitted students had to make at least a 20 on their ACT test and conditionally admitted students could not make less than a 17.
That change represents an uptick of one point in each category for the ACT test (in which a 36 is the high score). Turner said administrators decided on the change after reviewing statistical data that indicates students with higher ACT scores are more likely to find academic success and to graduate college.
“We believe that students who come in with higher ACT scores present a better foundation on which to build a college curriculum. They make better grades, they stay in school longer and they move forward to graduation better than students with lower ACT scores,” Turner said. “That is what has led us to where we are right now, which is raising the act score just a little.”
Years ago, JSU was known for serving all students with a high school diploma or the equivalent regardless of their ACT scores. That has long since changed, but some still remember the institution for that characteristic. Officials say the new standards enable them to better serve a more academically prepared class. The change, they say, is purely positive.
“Our enrollments are up and the students that we serve are being more successful, so I have not seen a negative effect of those increased admission standards at all,” Turner said. “I think that having a ‘no admission standards’ sends the wrong message to students who may not be ready for a college experience.”
That doesn’t mean that students with lower ACT scores are completely out of luck. Through the university’s Experiencing Successes in Education and Life program in the learning services department, students with ACT scores as low as 14 can get their start at JSU. The program offers help to those scoring in the lowest range by selecting no more than 50 students to take three six-week courses in basic math, reading and writing courses in the summer.
If students are successful in all areas, they have the opportunity to enter JSU on a conditional status. They, like all conditionally admitted students, must take additional remedial courses within the first year to stay at the school.
The program has been successful in increasing retention rates for those who participate and increased retention rates lead to increased graduation rates.
“More than anything it instills confidence in them. When they excel through this program it shows them college is a possibility,” said Courtney Peppers-Owen, director of learning services. “They’re not flunking out, they’re not staying necessarily, but they’re not flunking out.”
Timothy B. King, associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, said other universities are raising their academic standards in an effort to recruit more successful students.
“I think what you’re probably seeing is that colleges and universities want to make sure they’re recruiting people who can be successful,” King said. “We want to make sure we’re recruiting students who want to be successful at JSU. By increasing our standards we’re demonstrating to students that we expect more on the front end.”