In a dramatic move to increase diversity and the number of Lowcountry students who enroll, the College of Charleston is considering accepting all students in certain counties who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.
President Glenn McConnell said college leaders are discussing launching a pilot program, which could begin as early as the 2015-16 school year. It likely would include Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, as well as two or three rural Lowcountry counties.
The school's faculty would have to approve the plan before it could move forward, he said. But if it does, school officials later this fall could begin recruiting high school seniors in the selected counties.
The plan is modeled after the state of Texas' "Top 10% Rule," a law passed in 1997 that guarantees admission to all state-funded universities to Texas students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.
The idea represents a departure from CofC's efforts in recent years to bring in the highest-achieving students possible, especially freshmen, from South Carolina and other states, based on grades, SAT scores and other factors.
The college has been criticized by some state and local leaders, including leaders in the black community, for relying too heavily on SAT scores for admission. McConnell's plan takes the SAT score out of the mix.
"I personally think it would be a good plan to try," McConnell said. "I don't see it diluting standards a bit. I believe it will enhance diversity and bring more high-achieving students to the college."
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP, said she was elated when she heard about McConnell's plan. "Now that's walking the talk," she said.
Students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their classes have potential, she said. "Now they're being given an opportunity."
Brian McGee, the college's interim provost, also said he's certain the plan would bring in high-achieving students. The best predictor of success in college is a student's high school grade-point average. It's a much better predictor than an SAT score, he said. "These are students who will do very well."
Both McConnell and McGee said the college is committed to increasing diversity.
The school came under fire in recent years because the percentage of minority students, especially black students, enrolled is one of the lowest among the state's higher education institutions.
Now, only about 14 percent of undergraduates are minorities, and only about 6 percent are black. School leaders have been trying to turn that around in recent years, but it's slow work.
The college also has been criticized for not enrolling enough students from the Lowcountry, and instead favoring high-achieving out-of-state students. Those students bring in more money, because out-of-state tuition is about double that of in-state rates. And their higher standardized test scores and grades boost the college's profile in U.S. News & World Report and other magazine rankings.
Former Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails last year invited Francis Marion University in Florence to open a satellite campus in the town because he said he was tired of hearing students and their parents complain about not getting accepted at the college. He wanted local students to have the option of earning a four-year degree without having to leave the area.
McConnell earlier this month sent a letter to Francis Marion President Fred Carter asking him to slow down on the plan to open a satellite campus, and to consider collaborating with the college on the plan.
McConnell said he's not worried about magazine reports. "We should be about student success, not about chasing rankings," he said. "It's not just about getting them in the front door. It's about retention."
McConnell said he doesn't expect a great deal of resistance to the plan, but he expects there to be a lot of questions. And he and college staffers and faculty members will soon get to work to iron out the details of the plan.
"We want to make sure that if we launch it, we launch it the right way with a good chance of success, he said. I want the students to come here and succeed."