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Tougher ND college entrance standards approved

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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota college students will face tougher entrance requirements in three years under admissions changes approved Wednesday by the state Board of Higher Education.

The changes also limit schools' ability to offer tuition discounts to foreign and out-of-state students, which drew protests Wednesday from Minot State University advocates.

The school, which is less than 60 miles south of the Canadian border, has a substantial number of Canadian students, said David Fuller, Minot State's president. They are charged the same tuition rates as North Dakota residents, and university supporters said the switch would deter Canadians from enrolling, because they would have to pay more.

"It's more affordable for them to come to Minot State," said Roger Herrmann, 20, of Bismarck, a Minot State junior who is studying aerospace engineering. "With this going through, a lot of them might say, 'I might as well just stay at home.'"

Board members, who approved the changes unanimously, declined to take up requests to delay action for a month or submit the standards plan to an independent review.

University System Chancellor Ham Shirvani said concerns about the changes would be resolved later. He and board President Duaine Espegard said the plan will evolve as Shirvani works out details with the colleges.

"There's going to be plenty of work that we have to do," Shirvani said. "We really want to work this out in three years, not in 20 years."

The proposal divides North Dakota's 11 public colleges into three groups: the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, which grant doctoral degrees and specialize in research; the other four-year universities in Minot, Dickinson, Mayville and Valley City; and the state's two-year colleges in Bismarck, Williston, Wahpeton, Bottineau and Devils Lake.

Entrance standards at UND and NDSU will be the toughest of the three groups, though any of the four-year universities will be allowed to adopt standards more difficult than their normal minimums, Shirvani said.

Under the new rules, entrance scores will be determined by a mathematical formula using a student's high school grades, course work and ACT test results. North Dakota residents will get a small point bonus.

Students whose score meets or exceeds their chosen university's "index number" would be automatically accepted. Those who fall short could ask admissions offices on each campus for an exception.

An earlier proposal included a student's senior class rank as part of the calculation, but Shirvani said the idea was dropped because class rank could provide a skewed result at smaller high schools.

Two-year colleges will continue to have open enrollment and host any remedial schooling needed for prospective university students. Shirvani said the colleges could provide instruction on the campuses of North Dakota's four-year universities.

Shirvani said the university system will now begin working to inform high school students about specifics of the plan and how it would affect them.

Joel Bickford, the principal at Bottineau High School, said the changes will be explained to new high school students during standard conversations about attending college. He predicts students will be briefed on the coursework and grades they'll have to attain to enroll in the university they favor.

"If a student wants to go to UND, we'll know off the top: here's your graduation plan," Bickford said. "You need to take this course, this course and this course, and that's the curriculum you're going to need."

Morgan Forness, superintendent of Shiloh Christian School, a private school in Bismarck, said he hadn't heard much reaction from students since the changes were first proposed.

"I think a lot of us are in the waiting mode," Forness said.

The changes endorsed by the board are not unusual, said Larry Isaak, a former chancellor of North Dakota's university system and president of the Midwest Higher Education Compact. The Minneapolis-based organization is a consortium of colleges in 12 states, including North Dakota and South Dakota.

"It's more common than anything in most states, where there is a differentiation among institutions," Isaak said.