Sunday, November 28, 2021

Bill Crawford: Legislature should keep HELPing students

 Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum grabbed headlines over his comments in a meeting of the Post-Secondary Board recently. “Got a 17 on your ACT? Mark Keenum doesn’t want you at Mississippi State,” screamed a Mississippi Today headline.

Well, that’s not exactly right, but neither is what the Post-Secondary Board decided to recommend to the Legislature. 

The board is the nine-member panel that oversees the state funded student financial aid programs. Dr. Keenum is a member. The board recommended a complete overhaul of the state’s student aid programs. 

In simple terms the state would move from two merit based programs, MTAG and MESG, and one need-based program, HELP, to one that combines need and merit, the Mississippi One Grant program. 

The HELP program provides full tuition (currently up to $8,934) a year to needy students with at least a 2.5 GPA and 20 ACT score. The One Grant program would provide up to $4,500 a year but only to needy students with the highest ACT scores. An analysis by Mississippi Today showed the change would result in non-white students losing about $900,000 in aid while white students would gain nearly $1.4 million, a point of contention. 

But so far the public discussion on this issue has ignored key points: There has been no correlation of the proposal with federal PELL grants and institutional scholarships, the big gorillas in financial aid. Financial needs for students going to community colleges differ from those going to universities, and the program(s) must serve both. ACT scores are not reliable enough to be the predominant indicator of student merit. And what should be the proper role of state aid in the poorest state in the nation?

In reality, state funded student financial aid is the tiny tip of the giant cost of higher education iceberg. Spending, particularly for universities, escalates faster than inflation, consequently tuition and fees plus books plus room and board just go up and up while state support doesn’t keep up and federal support doesn’t fill the gap. So institutions want every dollar they can get.

The Legislature has chosen to avoid confronting the issue of affordability in the face of rising costs. Instead it strangles funding while giving institutional boards carte blanche to increase tuition and fees.  

In this instance, the cash flush Legislature should step up and fully fund the HELP program to maintain full access for our neediest, competent students. It could then revamp and better fund the merit programs.

Dr. Keenum is right that most students scoring a 15 to 17 on the ACT should not be admitted to Mississippi State (and they aren’t). However, he would be more than happy to have a star athlete who would be eligible with a 3.5 GPA on the NCAA core and a lackadaisical 15 ACT (the NCAA uses a sliding scale). 

Final thoughts: Admission standards at comprehensive universities should be significantly increased with slight increases at regional universities. No university should provide developmental classes. And the Legislature should substantially fund remediation programs at our community colleges if high schools aren’t going to be held accountable for ill-prepared graduates. 

 “I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths”– Proverbs 4:11.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.


Anonymous said...

Last time I checked students can get a loan to go to college regardless of merit or need. Maybe they ought to HELP themselves instead of depending on the government. More jobs need advance skills training (CC) and not a four year degree BTW.

That'sMisterDeplorableToYou said...

Like many issues in Mississippi, this issue is further complicated by race. It is always the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see. Higher admission standards invariably impact minority students at a higher rate. The higher the admission standards, the more White and Asian the institution becomes. This inevitably leads to accusations and litigation that the higher admission standards are being purposely imposed to exclude Black students. The decades-long Ayers v. Fordice case is a good starting place for anyone who wants to learn more about the issue.

Anonymous said...

I’m sick of people asking the government for help!!! I attended Georgetown and I had no help from government. Some of you will reply hey sure some near Ivy League educated white male writes this
Before you do that know I received a small scholarship for being catholic and it’s a Catholic schools the other I did well academically and had loans. This generation kills me.

Anonymous said...

Hey 11:49–
Who do you think underwrites those loans?

Anonymous said...

A student with a 17 ACT doesn’t need to start their continuing education at any 4 year school. They would be wasting either the states money, the parents money or their money. If they really want a college education they should enroll in a Community College. If thy make their grades it’s an easy transition to a 4 year school. If they don’t, find a trade that fits their abilities Or they could enlist in the military with options after their time in the service.

Anonymous said...

Whatever can be done to keep students from incurring debt from these college loan sharks. And students with non-qualifying grades to enter universities need to consider community college or other certifications in a trade, healthcare or other fields in healthcare in high demand jobs. And these young “journalist” with left leaning educations at Ms Today are living in “”la la land” espoused by their bosses and benefactors.

Anonymous said...

Interesting MSU willing to accept star athletes with less than stellar grades and GPA? If so, other students deserve the same opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I went to work As an ungraduated bank employee. The company I worked for provided educational scholarships for any and all employees. I finished my college graduation requirements, and went on to get a masters degree in business from Millsaps with financial help from my employers. It really makes me mad that these people complain about “lack of opportunity”. It is out there, but if your lazy a## will not go out there and get it, it is your fault.

Anonymous said...

MSU's academic ratings have dropped precipitously over the last decade. The alumni are on Keenum's arse as they should be. He's got to fight this .

Anonymous said...

I can’t imagine a student scoring a 17 on an ACT attending a 4 year university!!! This is absolutely horrific

Anonymous said...

The Ayers vs Waller case, filed in '75, is the legacy of longtime neighborhood agitator (they called him a community activist) Jake Ayers. I knew him well while working in Greenville poverty programs.

Jake was an opportunist of the highest degree. The case, as it languished and meandered (resulting finally in sanctions against JSU) was later named Fordice, then, Musgrove's name replaced Fordice's.

Just one more tack in the casket of reparations being demanded. And received. The dust will temporarily settle when the state is required to build JSU a 200 million dollar football field.

Eventually, no admission standards will be allowed at any state supported school.

Anonymous said...

Until last year the minimum ACT score needed to be able to study at a German University with a US high school diploma was 28 (twenty eight)… FYI

Anonymous said...

Don’t let an ACT score fool you, I didn’t do that well on mind, during the seventies you could get in with scores lower than 17, I took a few remedial classes and I got my sheepskin in 4 1/2 years and had a successful business career.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:39, there you go complicating things by comparing full blooded humans with Mississippians.

For shame.

If a 28 ACT were required for admittance to Ole Miss/State, Oxford and Starkville would be ghost towns notwithstanding their resident schools' athletic programs.

Anonymous said...

At least all Ole Miss students have achieved a .28 or higher on their BAC exam. No worries and Hotty Toddy.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:18,

I am right there with you!

I didn't do well on the ACT at all and did quite well academically in the years immediately following high school. Of course, as comedian Nate Bergantz famously said "I had to start with a class that just had the word "math" written on the textbook".

The difference is I knew I had been a screw-up and I knew I needed to work my a&& off to make something out of myself. As the mantra in life goes, no one owes you anything and no one is going to hand you a damn thing.

Anonymous said...

1) It is NOT true that ACT score requirements are lower for student athletes at MSU (or OM or USM).

2) There is a reason Jerry Rice went to Valley State instead of MSU 19 miles from his front door.

3) The theory of disparate impact has always been the 'go-to-card' for race baiters.

4) Ayers had absolutely nothing to do with admission standards.

Anonymous said...

I made 17 on the ACT, attended Ole Miss, and maintained a 3.0 GPA the entire time there. I came from a very small public high school in Mississippi that only offered the basic core courses. I didn't make low on the ACT because I wasn't able to learn; I scored low because I had NEVER seen some of the material on the test. Using one test as a means to judge someone's ability to compete is just plain stupid and old-fashioned. And, yes, I had financial aid in the form of grants, loans, and work study. I now have a very good job, and I've paid off my loans. Instead of trying to hold young people back, why don't we give them a chance to succeed. Education shouldn't cost the same as a house anyway.

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