LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University regents on Wednesday provisionally approved an increase to the minimum grade point average required for admission, lifting NMSU’s entry bar to the highest in the state university system.
The new entry requirement, which would raise the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75 for most students, goes into effect in fall 2016. However, it also allows some students with a lower GPA to be admitted if they meet other criteria.
The regents conditioned their approval on an ongoing review of the university’s “Guaranteed Pathway” program that would give students who don’t make the grade a chance to attend community college and later transfer to NMSU.
The goal, according to NMSU Provost Dan Howard, is to boost students’ chances for success.
About half of students entering NMSU with a high school GPA below 2.75 drop out the first year and nearly 85 percent fail to graduate in six years, according to NMSU. By comparison, about three-quarters of students with a 2.75 or greater make it through their first year and nearly half graduate in six years.
Regent Kari Mitchell called the GPA increase “a pretty courageous move” but echoed several regents’ concerns that the board be able to review implementation of the Guaranteed Pathway to ensure it works. The regents voted unanimously to approve the change.
The University of New Mexico has been nudging up its minimum required GPA over the past three years to 2.5. New Mexico Tech requires a minimum 2.5 GPA for admission.
Starting in 2016, when the new GPA requirement goes into effect, students who don’t meet that requirement can still be automatically admitted if they achieve an ACT score of 21 or an SAT score of 990, or they rank in the top 20 percent of their graduating class.
Howard said admissions officers will retain flexibility to admit a student who misses the GPA mark but shows other signs of an ability to successfully complete a college degree, such as substantially improved performance in the last two years of high school.
During the 2013 school year, about 200 NMSU students, or 10 percent of the class, would not have been granted automatic admission due to the higher GPA requirement.
Diversity on campus is not expected to be affected, according to NMSU. The Hispanic and minority makeup of last year’s entering class would have fallen by 1 percent to 55 percent Hispanic and 8 percent minority with the higher GPA requirement.
Howard said any financial impact of initially losing those students would be temporary, as the idea is to re-incorporate students through the Guaranteed Pathway after two years.
Through the Guaranteed Pathway, students will be able to participate in NMSU campus life while attending community college in Las Cruces. Initially, the Pathway will apply to NMSU’s four affiliated community colleges in Las Cruces, Grants, Carlsbad and Alamogordo and will later expand to others around the state. Students will be matched with an adviser who can direct students into courses that will count toward a four-year degree.
Howard said the focus will be on creating a “culture of transfer” that helps students successfully move from community college to the university.
Regent and NMSU alum Javier Gonzales said he would have been among those students who wouldn’t have made the cut under the new requirement and said it was his involvement in campus life that eventually steered him to excel – making the successful implementation of the Guaranteed Pathway essential to his support of the change, he said.
“Part of what was able to keep me in school, despite my academic challenges, was that the student life experience connected me to a group of students who were either excelling or had the ability to assist me,” he told the board. “They showed me the importance of focusing and going to class and doing what I needed to do. I wonder if I would have missed out on that experience if I had been mapped to community college early on.”
Students in the Guaranteed Pathway will be eligible to transfer to NMSU’s Las Cruces campus if they maintain a 2.5 GPA while earning at least 24 credit hours. After earning 36 credit hours, students can transfer to the main campus with a 2.0 GPA.
NMSU chemistry professor Antonio Lara attended the regents’ meeting and said he would like to see the university propose more to ensure that students at community college in the Guaranteed Pathway feel they belong to NMSU.
“There is a stigma: You’re over there,” he said. “What can we do, that extra little curriculum change that will make you come into the fold? And that’s what’s missing.”