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U. considers raising entrance standards

CEDAR CITY -- The University of Utah is looking at raising entrance requirements, perhaps in math and science, for incoming freshmen to help boost overall quality at the institution.

"We want to grow the University up a bit . . . to make the U. a more exciting intellectual place," U. President Bernie Machen said Friday.Machen presented the option to the State Board of Regents, which met Thursday and Friday at Southern Utah University. The regents are expected to discuss the matter further in later meetings. Public education officials would have to be involved in any decision, and the Utah Legislature also may want to chime in, Machen said.

The U., classified as a national Research I university, competes for students and faculty with more than 200 institutions, so it wants to become better recognized in the national arena. That forces it to focus on national standards of excellence, with U.S. News and World Report's rankings of colleges and universities being one of the most visible. The rankings are aimed at helping students choose schools where they can thrive intellectually.

In the rankings, the U.'s academic reputation is a 3.2 on a scale of one to five. That rank ties with Brigham Young University.

But the U.'s student selectivity, which the magazine says is a factor in academic climate, is less stringent than BYU's and leading universities.

U. students are of high quality, Machen says, adding they average a 3.4 grade point average and a 24 composite score on the American College Test.

But the U. admits 90 percent of its applicants, 21 percent of whom graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. BYU admits 71 percent of its applicants, 53 percent of whom are in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. The University of California at Berkley accepts 38 percent of its applicants, 95 percent of whom are in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.

But half of the students accepted at the U. don't register, Machen said.

Many students accepted at the U. go to Salt Lake Community College to earn general education requirements where they can find lower tuition and smaller classes before entering the U.

That essentially puts the U. in competition with the community college for students.

"That doesn't seem to be the right thing," Machen said.

The competition for students is compounded by higher education funding formulas. Funding is based on enrollment growth instead of the total number of students at the institution. Regents, however, are trying to change that.

The magazine's rankings include per student spending, but fortunately for the U., that is weighted less than other factors, Machen said.

The U., now enrolling 25,000 students, wants to add 2,000 students. Machen says that can be accomplished by more stringent entrance requirements. Higher student selectivity would entice more students to the U. because local students seeking top universities in the country would be more likely to stay put, he said.

While specifics have not been ironed out in preliminary discussion with faculty, Machen says the U. is looking at boosting math and science entrance requirements.

At present, prospective U. students are required to take intermediate algebra and three science classes in high school, said Bonnie Morgan, curriculum director for the State Office of Education.

To change entrance requirements at the U., the state office would have to look at issues including reducing electives and boosting graduation requirements.

"That really would require a lengthy discussion because it really does have implications for public schools and students," Morgan said.

Boosting student quality is not about money, Machen said. But money from donors or grants could be a byproduct with a possible higher national ranking, as could a tuition increase.

Machen says any decisions on student selectivity are far away and then would take four years or so to implement so students could appropriately map their high school years.

In other news, regents on Friday approved a 2.5 percent salary increase -- the same the Legislature allotted for all state employees -- for presidents of the state's nine colleges and universities.

Still, the salaries are all below the national median for comparable institutions, from $40,000 a year below the median at Utah State University to less than $2,000 a year difference at Snow College, the College of Eastern Utah, and Dixie College.

Salaries range from $215,090 for Machen to $105,118 a year for the presidents of Snow, Dixie and CEU.