The City University of New York is beginning a drive to raise admissions requirements at its senior colleges, its first broad revision since its trustees voted to bar students needing remedial instruction from its bachelor’s degree programs nine years ago.
In 2008, freshmen will have to show math SAT scores 20 to 30 points higher than they do now to enter the university’s top-tier colleges — Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens — and its six other senior colleges.
Students now can also qualify for the bachelor’s degree programs with satisfactory scores on the math Regents examination or on placement tests; required cutoffs for those tests will also be raised.
Open admissions policies at the community colleges will be unaffected.
“We are very serious in taking a group of our institutions and placing them in the top segment of universities and colleges,” said Matthew Goldstein, the university chancellor, who described the plan in an interview. “That is the kind of profile we want for our students.”
Dr. Goldstein said that the English requirements for the senior colleges would be raised as well, but that the math cutoff would be raised first because that was where the students were “so woefully unprepared.”
The chancellor said he had long planned to raise standards further. The new move, which has been discussed with some college presidents but has not been announced publicly, is also a response to some professors’ complaints that too many students are poorly prepared for college work, especially in math.
In the fall of 2005, for example, more than 40 percent of students in introductory math courses — pre-calculus, college algebra and calculus — either failed or dropped out of the classes, numbers typical of many universities nationwide.
Still, some CUNY professors fear that the new requirements will keep low-income and black and Hispanic students from entering bachelor’s degree programs. The same concern was voiced nine years ago, when students needing remedial instruction were barred. Students, faculty and some elected officials also argued then that enrollments would plunge.
Enrollments, in fact, have grown since then. But the proportion of black students at the top five colleges fell to 14 percent of regularly admitted freshmen last year, from 20 percent in 1999, according to the university’s data. (Those figures do not include those admitted through SEEK, a program for economically and educationally disadvantaged students, who do not have to meet the same criteria.) The proportion of Hispanic students has held even.
William Crain, a City College psychology professor who fought the earlier change, said he vehemently opposed the new plan because he feared it would keep low-income and black and Hispanic students from entering bachelor’s degree programs. “This is turning the university into more of a middle-class university,” he said.
Robert Ramos, a Brooklyn College graduate student who is chairman of the University Student Senate and is a trustee, said he was torn.
“I understand the importance of having high standards,” he said. “They help in making your degree much more valuable, especially in this day and age, especially when there is so much competition.”
But, he added, “you also have to look at who CUNY is and who the mission of CUNY is to provide education for.”
Dr. Goldstein acknowledged that “some dislocating effects” were inevitable, but said he expected them to be limited.
Under the new standards, freshmen will have to earn at least 510 on the math SAT to win entry to the five top colleges, and 500 for the bachelor’s degree programs at the other senior colleges — John Jay, Lehman, Medgar Evers, New York City College of Technology, Staten Island and York. The university minimum is now 480, although some colleges have set higher cutoffs.
The university said 266 students at the five top colleges scored between 480 and 510 on the math SAT last year, but might have qualified in other ways.
Currently, students who do not meet the SAT requirement can substitute a score of at least 75 on the Math A Regents exam, which is typically taken in grades 8 to 10, or qualifying scores on ACT’s Compass placement tests in pre-algebra and algebra. The university has not yet set the tougher Regents cutoff because the state is changing its high school math program.
The plan to raise standards took on momentum last winter, after the university’s math council, a group of college professors, asked that the Compass test cutoff scores be raised.
In May, Selma Botman, the university provost, notified college presidents that those cutoff scores would be raised very slightly this fall — to 30 from 27 — and called on the presidents to improve their teaching and develop other courses for weaker students.
Math professors were pleased by the provost’s attention but less happy with her solutions.
Wallace Goldberg, chairman of the math department at Queens College, said at the time that the small increase was like going “from an F minus minus to an F minus.” This week, he said the plan to move still higher on Compass cutoffs in 2008 — a jump to 45 at the top five colleges — was better but still not enough.
Many college presidents said they were eager to raise the requirements. “They are right in thinking the time has come,” said Christoph M. Kimmich, president of Brooklyn College, who was acting chancellor of the university when the earlier policy change was approved.
Some CUNY officials, like Ricardo R. Fernández, president of Lehman College in the Bronx, who were not big supporters of that change, said they had come to embrace it.
“Perhaps I have become more convinced that students are able to rise to the challenge,” Dr. Fernández said.
He added that higher admissions standards would give Lehman added cachet and help it attract some of the 8,000 Bronx students who attend CUNY colleges in Manhattan that have tougher admissions requirements than Lehman does.
Marcia V. Keizs, president of York College in Queens, said higher admissions standards were bringing in better prepared students who had a greater chance of graduating. “Many schools that had described York as not being on their radar screen before have put us on their radar now,” she said.
Edison O. Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, said higher admissions standards had increased the proportion of students in the college’s bachelor’s degree program to about half of his student population, while the college’s associate’s degree track had shrunk.
“Students are coming in and saying, ‘I want to move into the baccalaureate program and into my major much more quickly,’ ” Dr. Jackson said. “And they are.”