Don’t give up on underperforming students

James Vaughn

The university released enrollment numbers Saturday and prided itself on only accepting those “most likely to succeed at a four-year university.”

“The university intentionally continues to raise its academic standards,” the news release states. “For the first time, no conditionally admitted students, who may not be as prepared for a four-year college career, were admitted.”


Until recently, USI prided itself on being accessible to the average Indiana family and the average student. Now, the university prides itself on high GPAs and smart, “well-prepared” students, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But what about the students who may not be as “well-prepared?”

In 2007, 8.8 percent of students were conditional admits. When I entered the university in the fall of 2011, the same year the university’s enrollment peaked, 2.5 percent of students were conditional admits.

This year, the average high school GPA for incoming freshmen is 3.27.

I didn’t do so hot in high school. In fact, I failed math so many times I had to complete three different math courses my senior year in order to graduate. D’s and F’s didn’t scare me. And I was more concerned about getting my license, having fun and spending time with my girlfriend than getting good grades.

I turned things around toward the end and I moved the tassel from one side of my cap to the other, becoming the second person in my family to graduate high school. I had my diploma in hand. Next up: a degree.

I remember opening my acceptance letter to USI and reading, “Congratulations, James!” I was ecstatic. Mostly because my dream schools – IU and Ball State – rejected me, my hometown schools – IUPUI and the University of Indianapolis – expected me to enter college on “probation”, and Indiana State was a joke. I didn’t want to live at home, so I wouldn’t have gone to Ivy Tech.

USI boasted a beautiful campus, affordable housing and a three-hour drive from home, which was the furthest I could get in-state.

But it didn’t take me long to realize that the university also offered me something more – a chance to start over.

So while the rest of my class headed off to places like Purdue and Butler, I headed south in search of acceptance, which is exactly what I got.

My former negligence toward education no longer tied me down. My high school performance seemed irrelevant.

But when I settled into O’Bannon Hall my freshman year, I was a different person. I was young, immature and the idea of attending college seemed more fun than it did important.

After a rough first year, I did start over. I declared journalism my major and stepped into a demanding role as news reporter at The Shield.

Fast-forward two years.

I am writing this from my own office at The Shield, where I am editor-in-chief, I have a 4.0 GPA in my major, I’ve held two internships, including one only 10 students in the state received, I am president of the Indiana Collegiate Press Association and served as president of USI’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists last year. I plan to walk across the stage next December and attend graduate school.

That’s not to say my college career has been flawless, because it certainly hasn’t been. There’s a reason I only mentioned my major GPA.

But I have accomplished some amazing things – things I had no idea I was capable of – because this university gave me a chance.

I can’t help but think that given the university’s new standards, my 2.5 GPA in high school wouldn’t have gotten me acceptance today.

What happens to the James’s out there who now face rejection from not only most other schools in the state, but this one, too?

What happens to opportunity?

When people ask me why I chose USI, I say, “Because they believed in me.” I pride myself on attending a school that didn’t shun a naïve 18-year-old.

I urge the university to not lose faith in the students who may not be as “well prepared.” Don’t lose faith in the faculty’s ability to change lives or the students’ ability to change their own. Because without opportunity – without that “Congratulations, James!” – I wouldn’t be the 22-year-old I am today.


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