FARGO – The State Board of Higher Education on Thursday approved stricter admission standards for the system’s two research institutions, which many hope will improve graduation and retention rates, as well as the schools’ reputations.

Starting in fall 2016, North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota will raise their minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75 and minimum ACT score from 21 to 22.

High school students will also be required to enter their freshman year at these institutions with 13 core courses in 2016, 14 core courses in 2017 and 15 core courses in 2018.

Under the new standards, 6 percent of NDSU’s and UND’s 2014 freshman classes would have been denied.

An additional 17 percent of the research institutions’ 2014 freshmen classes have scores lower than the new minimums, but would have been admitted based on their other qualifications.

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These could include extracurricular activities or Advanced Placement courses, Sonia Cowen, interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, said in an interview after the vote.

Cowen noted that taking AP classes might lower a high school student’s composite GPA but are “unbelievably helpful in preparing them to succeed in college,” which is why the new minimum requirements will be fluid.

The standards apply only to first-time, full-time students under the age of 25, meaning primarily traditional freshmen, she said.

Several board members expressed hope that the higher standards would raise graduation and retention rates, which consultant Tom Meredith had named as one of the system’s major problems earlier in the meeting.

“If this gives us the opportunity to raise those, it is worth pursuing,” board member Kevin Melicher said.

Board member Don Morton said there is the possibility, however, that raising standards would have the opposite effect because of North Dakota’s low population.

In an interview, Cowen said students who are denied by the research institutions might still end up in the state system. They could decide to go to regional colleges and two-year schools, which have lower standards, she said.

Board member Grant Shaft said he supports the new standards, but also believes there should be a “continuing discussion” around them, perhaps in the form of an ad hoc committee, which was suggested by Meredith.

Student member Chris McEwen said the board should follow up to confirm that the standards were “at the very least correlating” with improved graduation and retention rates, which is one initiative of the board’s new strategic plan.

Although proposed as part of the strategic plan in October, the new admission standards were not approved along with the rest of the document. At the time, board members cited a lack of discussion as their reason for delaying that decision.

“This is one step that makes our strategic plan complete,” Melicher said Thursday.

Admission requirements were one of the most contentious pieces of former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s Pathways plan. These newly approved standards are not as strict as the ones he proposed.