IUP ‘expectations’: higher tuition, lower standards

Molly VanWoert

Molly VanWoert

An opinion

By Molly VanWoert

Academic expectations for acceptance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania – whose motto is, ironically, “Beyond Expectations” – have been amended in the university’s new Strategic Plan.

The latest plan, whose first draft was made public in December, advises the university to “examine alternatives to standardized test scores for admission for otherwise qualified and capable students.”

This, according to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Timothy Moerland, means steering admissions officers away from standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and focusing instead on high school GPAs.

“There is a growing awareness in higher education that standardized test scores, such as the ACT or SAT, don’t always give a complete picture of someone’s ability to succeed in college,” Moerland said in a Friday email interview. “In place of these standardized test scores, things like High School GPA — which seem to be better indicators of success for some students — are looked at more closely or given more weight in making an admission decision.”

The current requirements that must be met by high school grads applying to IUP include a cumulative GPA of 3.3 – an 88 percent – and an SAT score of 1,000, factoring in only math and reading comprehension, according to the university’s website.

A 3.3 GPA and a 1,000 SAT score both fall relatively close to the national averages – a 3.1 GPA and an SAT score of 1,100, according to CollegeBoard.com.

While at first glance it appears that IUP is setting a higher standard with GPAs, making the strategic plan appear to raise the bar, it is important to remember that GPAs are not standardized like the SATs.

GPAs vary from student-to-student, and cannot be judged simply by a number like the SATs. A GPA is a useful tool when comparing one student to the rest of the student body at a particular high school. But the SATs are used to compare one student to the rest of the students in the country.

“GPAs are not standard,” according to the SAT vs. GPA page of PowerScore.com, an SAT preparation website. “An ‘A’ earned in Mrs. Crawford’s English class in New York City might only equate to a ‘C’ in Mr. Pryor’s English class in San Diego. As much as the SAT may seem like an unfair assessment to you, it is the only fair tool for admissions officers to compare students from different schools and educational backgrounds across the country.”

By shifting the focus away from standardized testing and placing it instead on a method that varies on a case-to-case basis, a potentially inaccurate and unequal method of acceptance is being created.

High school GPAs should not be given prominence over standardized testing. They should be considered alongside the SATs and ACTs.

Moerland acknowledges placing the focus primarily on GPAs also has the potential to increase the number of students who are accepted to IUP, thus increasing enrollment.

“It means that capable and motivated students, who have good GPAs but not so good test scores, will have better access to IUP than if we relied strictly on standardized tests,” Moerland said. “We see this, coupled to our initiatives for student success, as making it possible for more students to enter and succeed at IUP, and go on to succeed in their chosen path after college.”

THIS RAISES the question of whether the seemingly perfect timing of the updated admissions plan and the announcement of the Tuition Flexibility Pilot in January is a coincidence, or the solution to a problem that the university is denying having in the first place.

The tuition plan, if approved this year, will require students to pay for their education on a per-credit basis.

After the three-year phase-in period, assuming the current cost-per-credit of $264 remains the same, a student taking a 15-credit semester in 2019-20 will pay around $8,520 for the year, an increase of 25 percent from the current flat rate of $6,820 per year.

The tuition plan was proposed by IUP with the intent to begin to solve financial troubles faced by the university.

“When the university is on firm financial footing, everyone benefits,” IUP spokeswoman Michelle Fryling said in a Jan. 29 phone interview. “We cannot continue in this kind of debt. We needed to do something bold to ensure financial stability.”

While this seems a sure-fire way to decrease student interest in IUP, Fryling insists that enrollment is not something the college is worried about.

“We do not expect enrollment to decrease,” she said. “I still believe the students are receiving a great education at an incredible value.”

However, the admissions update to the Strategic Plan seems to be the answer to the eventual drop in enrollment that appears inevitable to all but a select few.

Admission standards at IUP have been lowered and the cost of tuition is likely to be raised, all to help solve the financial troubles of the university.

The degree to which the system is failing the IUP student body truly is “beyond expectations.”

Molly VanWoert is a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and editor-in-chief of the student newspaper The Penn.

This opinion aired March 22 on the WIUP-FM local news program The Hawk Report.

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2 Responses to IUP ‘expectations’: higher tuition, lower standards

  1. Anthony Pinter says:

    Thank you for your opinion Ms. VanWoert. My daughter is enrolling at IUP next year and your analysis is rather insightful. Universities and collages are in the “business” of selling education. From a business perspective, the nice, new housing options are a selling point that must pay-off.
    Student enrollment will pay that bill. I am concerned about the change in acceptance requirements. It does seem to be a way of ensuring that enrollment numbers stay up to meet the incurred costs
    IUP is facing. That doesn’t match with the idea of a “quality” school. Thanks again for your article.

  2. Tony Buffone says:

    I am utterly appalled at the steady and continual decline in my alma mater’s academic admission standards. When I applied (1990), IUP had admission standards that were very competitive and resulted in quality students and a very respectable reputation compared to its reputation today. Many of my friends in high school who were B and B+ students were admitted only to the Armstrong/Kittanning branch campus or Summer-January special consideration. IUP was considered the crown jewel of the PASSHE system of universities and always ranked highly even among national universities of well known repute. Somehow, in the last 7 years, it has begun a downward spiral to becoming a sell-out institution. How sad for a beautiful campus with a respectable history. Listen here administration. Tighten up. Reduce your admittance rate to the 50-60% of applicants of yester-year. Choose quality students and reclaim your reputation. The rest will fall into place. West Chester has caught you. And others are tailing you as well. For shame.

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