Growing our Own

By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion

Reach Out and Serve! How Northwestern State University Can Increase Its Share of National Merit Scholars

Last year, the NPJ published a piece suggesting some things the new administration of Northwestern State University could do to raise its profile. Those suggestions dealt with what NSU could do with students once they were at the university. This piece looks at some things NSU could do as a regional university to not only increase its own standing, but more importantly, offer opportunity and a better future to high school students throughout the region and state. The university should do more than wait for students to come to them. Let us reach out and cultivate opportunities to raise the sights of young people regardless of the quality of schools they happen to attend. It would be a good thing indeed for the university to enroll more students with higher ACT scores, likewise for NSU or Scholars’ College to have National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists, finalists and winners choosing to enroll at the university. That is not out of the university’s control. NSU is a regional university that serves a primarily rural area with a large part of the population living in poverty. Rather than accepting the status quo and chasing after a shrinking pool of well qualified students, take the initiative to reach out and assist area high schools in introducing their students to opportunities of which they might not have been aware. We can indeed “grow our own.”

Every year the National Merit Scholarship winners and their schools are announced. While there is much to celebrate about the superb students who earned them, there is a depressing similarity to the announcements. Almost none are from rural and/or poor schools. They are almost always from private schools or public schools in wealthier areas. Over the years I have lived in Louisiana, the exceptions have been few and far between. There is no inherent reason this should be so. Northwestern State University should take the lead in serving the young people in the region.

The National Merit Scholarship competition is an excellent place to start. Too many students in our state miss out on opportunities without even knowing what they missed. NSU can fix that.

The following information illustrates the opportunity presented Northwestern State University

— Cutoff scores for the National Merit Scholarship vary by state. Louisiana usually has the second lowest cutoff, above only Mississippi.

— The National Merit Scholarship Competition has strict timelines that must be adhered to.

— The ACT is the only standardized test given uniformly throughout the state.

— The PSAT and SAT are the ONLY tests used in determining eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship.

— Not every district in Louisiana offers the PSAT/SAT, or for that matter, is aware of the National Merit Scholarship Program.

— Many Louisiana students (especially the ones attending the poorer & smaller schools) miss out on the chance to earn a National Merit Scholarship without even knowing it.

The Opportunity:

Northwestern State University should expand its testing center, offer the PSAT and SAT, and invite students from high schools throughout Louisiana that do not offer these tests to come take them with the specific intent of increasing the applicant pool for scholarships. To my knowledge, no other college or university in the state does this. NSU could become a huge force for social mobility in a few years. A smart student from a rural area or the inner city should have the same opportunity as a student with wealthier and better educated parents. The university cannot do much about the quality of the school the student attends, but it can go around it to offer a way up. While in no way conceding the competition for existing scholars, this idea offers NSU a way to “grow our own” as well as gaining some measure of control over the process. Above all, it is an excellent way for our university to expand life changing scholarship opportunities for much of our state’s poor and rural populations.

Students taking the tests would enter NSU’s SAT code (6492), the National Merit Scholarship program (0085.)

This idea would benefit NSU in a number of ways. NSU would receive a large number of SAT score reports, providing valuable recruiting data for admissions. The Scholars’ College would likewise have an opportunity to show its offerings to a new group of students. Lastly, it would be an excellent way for our university to serve the children of our state. These are our children. Let us reach out, serve them and change some lives for the better!

3 thoughts on “Growing our Own

  1. Is it true that not all Louisiana districts offer the PSAT/SAT or are not even aware of the National Merit Scholarship? That’s a shame.

  2. Kevin,

    NSU currently does everything you have asked for in this post. My daughter took the SAT at NSU. They have a full staff of recruiters that work every high school in the state and even go out of state to recruit students.

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