Texas Southern University admitted thousands of students who did not meet the college’s academic criteria and awarded hundreds who were not qualified about $2.1 million in scholarships over a three-year period, according to a recent review.
The five-page executive summary of the college’s admissions and enrollment process, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, details consulting firm Berkeley Research Group’s review into the school’s admissions, financial aid and administration practices, and cites higher numbers of students who fall short of academic criteria than previously reported.
The report, ordered by the TSU Board of Regents, revealed that half of the students or 4,141 of the 8,273 of those admitted to TSU in the fall semesters of 2017, 2018 and 2019 did not meet TSU’s academic criteria and were admitted “based on a variety of undocumented scenarios,” according to the report.
In addition, more than 900 students who did not meet admissions criteria in the three fall cohorts received $2.1 million in scholarships, despite not meeting qualifications for the scholarship or financial aid programs.
Incoming students must have a 2.5 minimum GPA, and a combined SAT score of 820 or higher if taken before March 2016 or a score of 900 if taken after that date, according to the college. Those who take the ACT must earn a composite score of 17.
TSU’s interim President Kenneth Huewitt said in a written statement that the university received the Berkeley report and submitted it to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas State Auditor’s Office, as required.
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“Most important, we will continue to address this issue and the recommendations listed in the report,” Huewitt wrote.
Albert Myres Sr., chairman of TSU’s Board of Regents, said the long-awaited report ordered was disappointing, but it’s another step toward getting the university on the right path with compliance and strengthening the university’s connection with the greater community and businesses.
“We’re going to have to digest the data. Even though (the data) is not favorable, even though it’s upsetting, what we have to do is put it into perspective and say ‘Let’s not let it happen again,’” Myres said. “…We have to look at it for what it is, what we’re going to do to correct it, improve it and give these students at this university what they deserve.”
Board member Marc Carter said in a written statement that he was appalled by the report’s findings, saying “scholarships should go to students that meet admission standards but cannot afford tuition and to students for high academic achievement.”
“Nothing devalues a degree more than not adhering to admission standards,” Carter said, adding that past practices have harmed the TSU brand. “… The board is committed to reversing the practice, increasing admission standards and focusing on being the best HBCU rather than the biggest.”
‘Exceptions were made’
The Berkeley summary of the report said “exceptions were made to TSU’s academic admissions criteria without sufficient documentation or (Board of Regents) approval” that allowed students to be admitted.
Those who were admitted but did not meet TSU’s admissions criteria did worse than students who did meet academic requirements and were less likely to remain enrolled at the school, the review found.
Around 63 percent of students in the fall 2017 cohort and around 49 percent in fall 2018 were no longer enrolled at TSU in fall 2019, according to the report. TSU’s fall 2017 cohort, of which 56 percent did not meet academic criteria, saw the highest number of withdrawals within the students’ first semester.
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The research group reported that the board-approved criteria for several financial aid and scholarship programs, including the Texas B-On-Time Loan, Maroon and Gray Program, the Helen Giddings College Completion Program, and the First-time Freshmen Scholarships, were not always applied and were sometimes changed without approval or sufficient documentation.
Students were still given an average of around $30,000 in financial aid in 2018, $28,800 in 2018, and more than $21,100 in 2019.
Myres said he found the data on attrition especially disheartening.
“That number is showing you want happens when you (admit students) if they’re not prepared,” Myres said.
Berkeley’s analysis comes after controversy at the school, including an investigation into TSU’s law school admissions, which revealed several students had been fraudulently admitted, and the ousting of former president Austin Lane in February.
The university’s board hired the research group to conduct the admissions audit following the issues at the school and previous claims and concerns.
According to the report, a TSU employee submitted an anonymous complaint to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in November 2018, saying the college tried to increase enrollment by encouraging staff to admit all candidates, regardless of their qualifications.
TSU’s office of internal audit and insurance investigated and later issued a report that cited criteria for incoming students and the percentages of students who were considered “exceptions,” based on their participation in TSU’s summer success program or the application of a sliding scale. In its report, the Berkeley Research Group wrote in its recent review, however, that the past report included inaccuracies and much lower numbers regarding students who didn’t meet the admissions criteria.
Myres called the contrast between the two reports “troubling … from an internal audit perspective” but added that it will be addressed.
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The Berkeley review made several recommendations for TSU, including establishing an automated admissions criteria formula, redesigning freshman scholarship programs, and additional budgeting and accounting of awards to help determine how scholarship and financial aid is used. The group also recommended requiring an annual report to be submitted to the board and the need to analyze student success and improve graduation rates.
New goals to help shape decision-making, including those made on “borderline” students, should be established and documented, the research group said. The review also recommended that TSU re-issue an updated and accurate report to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and that all changes and exceptions to the admissions policy be approved by the board.
Myres said the board and the president will meet to discuss how the recommendations can be incorporated.
“I think the report turns on a light of clarity in terms of the admissions process at the university,” Myres said. “What my job is now is to put the right policies in place, work with President Huewitt and his people to put forth the right effort … and put in place steps and different scenarios to where we make sure this university is operating” correctly.
Myres said moving forward the board and president will focus on the students and ensuring that that the university has a “value proposition” and that students will have a degree of value that will make them competitive in the marketplace and help them get a job.
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“We’ve got to get past everything that’s being printed, everything that’s being communicated about this university. There are some very good things that are happening there, and those are the things that we need to get at the forefront,” Myres said. “That’s where I really want to get. It might take a minute, but we’re working in that direction.”