The open enrollment policy at Texas Southern University undermines the school's credibility, its reputation in the larger employment and academic world and contributes mightily to an abysmal dropout rate. Creating admission standards will be a boon to TSU, but it likely won't be an easy undertaking.

Until the late 1960s, TSU employed the same admissions requirements as the University of Texas at Austin. With integration however, predominantly white colleges began recruiting top black students, and Texas Southern's enrollment dropped. Open admissions helped maintain campus numbers. And it provided one of few opportunities for legions of disadvantaged black students to pursue higher education.

Today, however, open enrollment means that hundreds of students arrive on campus each year unprepared for college-level work. Prospective students need only pass the high school equivalency exam to enroll, and yet they attend the same classes as students who are far better prepared. This is a disservice to students who have strong academic track records.

Minimally prepared students have trouble engaging at a level appropriate to a university. Professors have to lower standards or fail large numbers.

The majority of first-time freshmen about 70 percent arrive at TSU unprepared for college. TSU provides a summer academy to help these students, but few take advantage. Either they don't realize they need remediation or they are robbed by the open-door policy of any incentive to enroll.

Open admissions create ”ghost students,” young people who sign up for courses with no intention of attending classes. Instead they pocket the difference between the amount of grants and student loans they qualify for and the cost of tuition and fees. By the time a modicum of maturity kicks in, the unrepaid loans have ruined the ersatz students' credit scores and created a bar to real attempts to go to college.

Having enrolled on open admissions' false impression of college readiness, many students who do want a degree end up saddled with thousands in loan debt after poor preparation forced them to drop out before graduation. Only 16 percent earn a bachelor's degree in six years at TSU.

This hurts teacher recruitment. It puts TSU professors who apply for positions elsewhere at a disadvantage. It lowers the prestige of the degrees earned by more capable students. It causes the esteem of even Texas Southern's graduate programs to suffer. And it is one reason many of Houston's plum employers don't recruit from TSU.

The open admissions policy was once helpful. It gave disadvantaged black students a chance to earn a degree. Times have changed.

Community colleges, the University of Houston-Downtown and a variety of other open admissions campuses now fill this still-pressing need. It is time for Texas' largest historically black college to focus on providing an academically excellent university experience for today's large number of competitive college-bound minority students.


—Houston Chronicle