In the future, gaining admission to a Colorado college or university may be more about what skills a student can demonstrate than about grade point averages and classes completed.

StockApplication61013A state task force has recommended eliminating the currently used “admissions index” and also moving toward a system where student competency and skills are used in determining college admissions, rather than just class completion.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education was briefed on the recommendations during a recent meeting at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

“These are some pretty significant shifts in policy and direction,” said commissioner Happy Haynes of Denver.

The Admission and Transfer Policy Review Task Force will make final recommendations this fall after a series of public comment meetings is completed this summer. The commission is required to formally review current admissions standards and remedial education policies and revise them as necessary by Dec. 15.

Redoing college admissions standards is one of the education reforms called for in the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plans for Kids law, which also required new content standards and new statewide tests. College admissions standards are supposed to be aligned with K-12 content standards, and all high school students are — ideally — supposed to be “postsecondary and workforce ready” by the time they graduate.

The admissions task force’s preliminary recommendation is that “instead of an index, institutions would evaluate the rigor of a student’s curriculum and preparation to determine admission to college based upon criteria similar to the Postsecondary and Workforce Ready (PWR) endorsed diploma.” (The commission and the State Board of Education on developing requirements for a new kind of high school diploma that would signify that a student is ready for college without remediation.)

The admissions index is a combination of a student’s class rank or grade point average with SAT or ACT test score. That combination yields a number that colleges and universities use to help determine eligibility for admission. (Get more information on the current admissions system here, and find the index scores for individual institutions here.)

The task force also recommends moving toward a “policy to emphasize competency demonstration rather than credit hour accumulation [but] continue to allow for the use of competency-based assessments to meet admission requirements and as well as time-based curriculum in high school.”

That would mean “not only did they take four years of math, but what kind of math courses did they take,” explained Tamara White, director of admission and access for the Department of Higher Education.

The task force also is suggesting changes in transfer procedures, including a policy that “applicants who complete an [associates of arts or associates of science] degree from a regionally accredited public Colorado institution would be guaranteed admission at a Colorado public four-year institutions, except Colorado School of Mines, provided they meet the minimum cumulative GPA standard and completed all courses with a grade of C- or better.”

The other study panel, the Remedial Education Policy Review Task Force, is reviewing how state colleges evaluate remedial work students need when they enter college.

Among the recommendations are using a wider variety of tests, in addition to those used now, to measure student readiness. “It is believed that adding these additional assessments will provide institutions with more flexibility and options to determine a student’s readiness for college-level coursework,” according to a DHE document.

The panel also is recommending using a range of cut scores on math tests so a student’s remediation needs can be determined based on their likely major. (The idea here is that, for instance, a liberal arts student might not need the same math abilities as a science major.)

The remediation task force also will make final recommendations in the fall.

Current admissions policies went into effect in 2008, although the index has been in use since 1987.

A new method of doling out financial aid

The commission unanimously approved allocations of state financial aid funds to individual state colleges and universities in 2013-14.

The allocation is an annual formality for the CCHE, but this year’s decision is notable because it’s the first under a new commission policy that more directly targets low-income students and also encourages staying in college and graduate on time by increasing grant amounts for each year of attendance.

To soften the impact of the change, the new policy gives individual campuses the same amount they received this year, plus 2 percent for inflation. State budget problems have kept the total amount of aid flat in recent years, but improving revenues allowed the legislature to add about $5 million for 2013-14.

State aid included: $79.2 million in need-based-aid; $16.4 million for work-study students (of which 70 percent must be allocated based on need); $14.4 million for Native American tuition support at Fort Lewis College (required by federal treaty); and some $420,000 for children of Colorado police officers, firefighters and National Guard personnel killed or disabled in the line of duty.

State funds provide only about 10 percent of the grants received by Colorado students. Federal funds provide about 40 percent, and institutions themselves provide 43 percent.

Even as state aid has been largely stagnant while tuition rates have grown in recent years, the amount of institutional aid has increased 88 percent since 2006-07. About 64 percent of institutional aid is based on merit. The state currently provides no funding for merit scholarships.