Officials like new formula for admissions

BY CLARK CAHILL | MAY 08, 2009 7:29 AM

The days of coasting through senior year could be over for those who want to attend state universities in Iowa — something many students found out this year.

Starting this past year, high-school seniors qualify for admission to any of the three state schools — the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa — if they score at least a 245 on the Regent Admission Index.

The index combines four factors aimed to predict success at regent universities — ACT or SAT test score, high-school rank, high-school cumulative grade-point average, and the number of completed high-school core courses.

Each factor is weighted differently in the index, with grade-point average and number of core courses weighted the heaviest.

For several years, if students completed the minimum number of required courses and ranked in the top half of their class, they automatically qualified for admission, said UI Senior Associate Director of Admissions Emil Rinderspacher.

But that didn’t suffice.

“A lot of school boards were receiving pressure to abandon class rank because it wasn’t advantageous for some students. There were also a lot of Iowa schools that didn’t even rank their students,” Rinderspacher said. “Therefore, the state universities had to figure out a new system to evaluate those students.”

The formula gives colleges a more well-rounded picture of students beyond their class ranks, he said, and the heavy weighting on the number of core courses allows for students to become better prepared for higher-education courses.

Though the system is aimed to steer away from class rank, it is still a small part of the formula.

Those enrolled in a non-ranking school — around 30 percent of UI applicants — are considered on an individual basis, Rinderspacher said.

“[For those students], we still look at the ACT scores, grades in core courses, amount of courses, and grade-point average,” he said. “We just don’t have the convenience of the index rating.”

The formula hasn’t come without some confusion and frustration. City High guidance counselor Eric Peterson said the new system puts counselors in a tough position when students want to take electives during their senior years, when taking a core course might benefit him or her more.

“A lot of good programs don’t fall into the core area, such as music and journalism,” Peterson said. “I don’t want to steer any students away from taking a course they are interested in, but if they are on the bubble for admission, it might be to their advantage to take a core course instead.”

Rinderspacher also noted there has been some confusion from many schools as to what courses fall under the category of being a core class.

“The guidelines for the courses were on the [state Board of Regents’] website, but there was still a lot of confusion, especially for out-of-state applicants,” he said. “We have since reworded some of the language, and now having a year under our belts, we are more confident in the system.”

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