Open Admissions at Colleges and Universities

Learn About the Pros and Cons of Open Admission Policies

A Welcome Sign
A Welcome Sign. Josh Meek / Flickr

Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States have open admissions. In its purest form, an open admissions policy means that any student with a high school diploma or GED certificate can attend. With guaranteed acceptance, open admissions policies are all about access and opportunity: any student who has completed high school has the option of pursuing a college degree.

History of Open Admissions

The open admissions movement began in the second half of the 20th century and had many ties to the civil rights movement. California and New York were on the forefront of making college accessible to all high school graduates. CUNY, the City University of New York, moved to an open admissions policy in 1970, an action that greatly increased enrollment and provided far greater college access to Hispanic and black students. Since then, CUNY ideals clashed with fiscal reality, and the four-year colleges in the system no longer have open admissions.

How "Open" Is Open Admissions?

The reality of open admissions often clashes with the ideal. At four-year colleges, students are sometimes guaranteed admission only if they meet minimum test score and GPA requirements. In some situations, a four-year college often collaborates with a community college so that students who don't meet the minimum requirements can still begin their college educations.

Also, guaranteed admission to an open admission college doesn't always mean that a student can take courses. If a college has too many applicants, students may find themselves waitlisted for some if not all courses. This scenario has proven all too common in the current economic climate in which school resources and funding are stretched thin.

Community colleges are almost always open admissions as are a significant number of four-year colleges and universities. As college applicants come up with their short list of reach, match, and safety schools, an open admissions institution will always be a safety school (this is assuming the applicant meets any minimum requirements for admission).

Examples of Open Admission Colleges and Universities

Open admission schools can be found throughout the United States, and they vary significantly. Some are private while many are public. Some are two-year schools offering associate degrees, while others offer bachelor degrees. Some are tiny schools of just a few hundred students, while others are large institutions with enrollments in the thousands.

This brief list helps illustrate the diversity of open admission schools:

Some Problems Related to Open Admissions

An open admission policy is not without its critics who argue that graduation rates tend to be low, college standards are lowered, and the need for remedial courses increases. Many colleges with open admission policies have that policy out of necessity rather than any sense of altruism of social justice. If a college is struggling to meet enrollment goals, admissions standards can erode to the point of having few standards at all. The result can be that colleges collect tuition dollars from students who are ill-prepared for college and unlikely to ever earn a degree.

So while the idea of open admissions may sound admirable because of the access to higher education it can provide, the policy can create its own issues:

  • Many students are not academically prepared to succeed in college and have never attempted the level of rigor required in college classes.
  • Many students will need to take remedial courses before they can take college-level courses. These courses are typically at a high school level and will not fulfill college graduation requirements.
  • Graduation rates tend to be low, often in the teens or even single digits. At Tennessee State, for example, only 18% of students graduate in four years. At Granite State College, that number is just 8%.
  • With so few students graduating in four years, costs increase with every subsequent semester of coursework.
  • While tuition is often lower than at more selective schools, grant aid is often limited. Open admission institutions rarely have the endowments and financial resources for financial aid that more selective colleges and universities have.

Put together, these issues can lead to significant problems for many students. At some open admission institutions, a majority of students will fail to earn a diploma but will go into debt in the attempt.

A Final Word About Open Admissions Policies

Don't let the problems facing many open admission schools discourage you; rather, use that information to make an informed decision about your college journey. If you are motivated and hard-working, an open admission university can open many doors that will enrich you personal life and expand your professional opportunities.