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The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is the latest public four-year university to institute a separate policy for admitting first-time, nontraditional students.

Now nontraditional students -- those 25 years or older who have graduated from high school or completed a General Educational Development test and who have never attended college -- can forgo the ACT and SAT college-entrance exams. Instead, they can apply online to UAPB, pay the application fee, submit a high school transcript or GED certificate and receive "suitable" Accuplacer exam scores in English, math and reading, the policy states.

"What we have found over time is that we have hundreds of students who apply, but if you're 52 years old, you're really hesitant to sit down for the ACT exam," said Linda Okiror, UAPB's associate vice chancellor for enrollment management and student success. "And actually our admissions office tells me that students actually call and withdraw their applications rather than take the exam. So the Accuplacer is an option that is really statewide."

Other schools use a similar method, she said. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway allow students to send in Accuplacer scores or take that exam in lieu of the traditional college-entrance exams. UCA only does so for nontraditional students, or those 25 or older.

UAPB's change comes as the state is pushing to raise the percentage of Arkansans who hold a high-demand technical certificate or degree from the current 39.5 percent to 60 percent by 2025. In southeast Arkansas, the percentage is even lower: 23.9 percent in Jefferson County, 18.5 percent in Bradley County and 16.3 percent in Desha County, according to the Lumina Foundation, a private group working to increase the number of Americans who hold high-skilled job training certificates or degrees.

Arkansas has some 213,987 adults who have some college but no degree, and an even larger number -- 504,769 -- have either a high school diploma or a GED diploma and no college whatsoever, the foundation said.

The state's goal is not attainable if higher-education leaders focus solely on the traditional high school graduate who enrolls directly into college the next semester, they have said. The idea behind the goal is to produce a larger number of graduates who are ready to fill future workforce demands. A prepared workforce can attract businesses to the state, which can create high-wage jobs and improve quality of life overall.

Since 2014, more than 300 students without college-entrance exam scores have applied to UAPB but never enrolled, Okiror said. About 12 students without scores have applied to the university for the fall 2018 semester, she said, adding they are aiming to be first-time freshmen.

"If they've applied as a freshman for a college degree and you're 50 years old, what does that say?," she asked. "That says that someone wants to go to college. They want to get a degree. They want to help their family. They want a job promotion. They want a job."

Even if it's only the 12 students who may be admitted, she said, that's 12 more that UAPB was able to help.

Nontraditional students seeking to enroll at UAPB must get certain cutoff scores on the Accuplacer exams to be admitted, Okiror said. She didn't know the exact cut scores, but said they were the equivalent of the ACT scores needed for each type of admission. As an example, for a student to be conditionally admitted at UAPB, the student needs a 15 ACT. The Accuplacer score for nontraditional students would be the equivalent of the 15 ACT.

At UCA, a nontraditional student can either earn a 21 ACT composite or a 77 in math, 83 in English/writing and a 78 in reading on the Accuplacer, said Christina Madsen, the university's associate vice president of communications, public relations and marketing. UCA faculty members are currently working on cut scores for conditional admission, she said.

ACT and SAT scores "expire" or are no longer valid after five years.

A handful of other schools, such as Arkansas Tech University in Russellville or Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, do not hold separate policies for accepting nontraditional students.

Arkansas State requires the same testing scores and types of potential students, and the university holds ACT boot camps on campus the week before each testing date, provost Lynita Cooksey said. The university has worked to provide more support services for nontraditional or returning students, including developing a low-cost online course experience class for students to determine whether online learning is right for them, said Jill Simons, ASU's vice chancellor for retention and completion.

The eVersity -- the University of Arkansas System's stand-alone, online-only university that enrolls mostly adult learners -- only asks for a high school diploma or GED. The system's university is different in that it seeks out adults who have some college credits but no degree, though it receives applications across the spectrum.

"From the outset, eVersity has attempted to make returning to school as easy as possible for our students," said Michael Moore, the system's vice president of academic affairs who also has led eVersity. "Almost all of our students have prior college experience, which is the best predictor of future college success."

He added that the university's personalized advising model and strong student support matter more to student success than information provided by an admission test.

Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia also requires those 25 or older who are first-time students to submit a high school diploma or GED diploma and only uses Accuplacer to determine whether those students can be in college-level courses or remedial courses.

Most nontraditional students who want to enroll have had life experiences and jobs that will not only help contribute to their ability to succeed but also enhance the learning environment, said Sarah Jennings, SAU's assistant vice president for enrollment services.

"High school curriculum prepares students for the materials covered on the ACT, and these students have been away from that curriculum a while," she said. "A required score tends to discourage these student when they are already concerned about returning to school. The placement scores will determine if any remediation is needed."

Metro on 11/11/2017

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