CASPER, Wyo. — The bar for guaranteed admission to the University of Wyoming should be higher, UW officials say, but a change wouldn’t keep out students who want to attend the state’s only public university.
UW trustees plan to consider at their November meeting a proposal to increase “assured admission” standards for UW students from requiring a minimum high school GPA of 3.0 or 2.75 with an ACT score of 20 or higher to a 3.0 GPA and an ACT score of 21 or higher beginning in fall 2013. High school course requirements would also change to match the Hathaway Success Curriculum, coursework designed to prepare students for college and approved by the state Legislature.
Requirements for non-Wyoming residents will match the requirements for Wyoming high school graduates, said Carol Frost, vice president for special projects and a professor in the geology department. Students who do not meet assured admission requirements but earn a minimum high school GPA of 2.25 and an ACT score of at least 20 will be admitted “with support” and be offered programs to help them succeed.
“Everybody who gets in now will continue to get in,” Frost said. “We’re just going to provide extra support for those who need it.”
By helping students from the beginning, UW officials hope to see more stay in school and make it to the finish line, ready for work.
“(Wyoming) does things together and we set high goals — we are not a state that’s about average,” Frost said. “We want, as a state, for our students to do better than average.”
Wyoming ranks in the bottom half of states for retaining students from their first to second years.
Only 72 percent of first-year students in 2008 enrolled at UW the following year, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
According to the same data, 53 percent of students graduate within six years, which is higher than the national average of 29 percent.
The students who succeed, who earn higher GPAs at UW and graduate, have taken tougher courses in high school and scored higher on the ACT. First-year students who scored a 21 or 22 earned an average GPA of 2.45 in spring 2010, according to university reports. Students with ACT scores of 19 or 20 averaged 1.94.
Of the students in the higher-ACT-score group, 25 percent were placed on academic probation by the end of their first year. Of the lower-scoring students, 45 percent were on probation.
Students who took high-level math courses in high school — calculus or International Baccalaureate math — earned higher GPAs on average than students who stopped at geometry or algebra II. Current admission standards only require three years of math; Hathaway requires four.
Ninety percent of Wyoming high school students who enrolled at UW this year had completed that set of courses, Frost said.
“More and more of them are prepared for college,” Frost said. “One of the big drivers is the Hathaway Success Curriculum.”
Under the proposed changes, students who receive the highest two levels of the Hathaway Scholarship program (honors and opportunity) would be assured admission. Students who earn the opportunity-level scholarship meet the GPA requirement for admission with support but might not meet the ACT requirement.
Students granted “conditional admission” are offered a spot in a small learning community called Synergy, but participation is not required.
Frost said most students admitted “with support” would enroll in Synergy because of its success.
Conditional status students averaged a first-semester GPA of 1.78 in 2010-11. Synergy students averaged a 2.14 GPA.
Synergy students enroll in smaller classes that count toward graduation. They are taught by instructors who have chosen to work directly with students. Additional help with study strategies, test-taking and other college skills is provided in a smaller, close-knit environment.
The program enrolls about 150 students, but Frost said it would expand to meet additional students admitted under the new standards. UW admitted 146 students on conditional status this fall. About 120 students were admitted with GPAs that would not meet the proposed assured admission standards changes.
John O’Connor, college counselor in the Natrona County School District, said the Synergy program has benefited his former students who weren’t as engaged in high school. Students who chose to take the minimum required courses aren’t ready for the amount of schoolwork of a full load of college classes, O’Connor said.
“It really can be a positive move to allow students to take the steps to be prepared so they can be successful,” O’Connor said. “Because when you get down to it, that’s what it’s all about.”
Frost said additional types of help have not yet been identified but would likely include a new less-intensive program than Synergy for students who were close to meeting assured admission requirements.
“We need those people to get the education they came for,” Frost said.