Students may find that being average is no longer good enough if they want to land a spot in a Florida university.
Even schools once considered easy to get into are turning away students who would have been admitted in the past.
Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton admitted just 43 percent of students who applied for this school year, down from 66 percent a decade ago.
Nova Southeastern University in Davie is toughening its admissions standards for next fall, requiring entering freshmen to have higher test scores and at least a 3.0 high school grade point average, up from 2.6.
And Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers expects to be more selective in 2014 after seeing its applications soar 40 percent from last year due to national exposure from its successful basketball team.
"Colleges and universities are looking to increase their admissions criteria. The better students you attract, the more likely they are to stay and complete," said Troy Miller, a senior researcher for the Florida College Access Network, a student success advocacy group affiliated with the University of South Florida. "And it's better for an institution's prestige and rankings."
He said students and parents can now easily go online to compare how successful students are at given schools.
Tougher selectivity was one of the strategies the University of Miami used to leapfrog over the University of Florida as the state's top-ranked university in U.S. News & World Report. Many of Florida's less selective institutions have struggled with poor graduation rates, which could hurt them financially as the state moves more toward funding institutions partly based on how well students perform.
Just 40 percent of freshmen at FAU, 43 percent at NSU and 44 percent at Florida Gulf Coast graduate within six years. The national average is about 50 percent.
"Legislators and most of the public are demanding students finish," said Ralph Rogers, provost at NSU, a private school that receives most of its funding from tuition dollars. "They see six-year graduation rates of around 50 percent or lower, and they wonder why are we providing all this federal and state money."
In 2011, Florida universities raised the minimum required GPA for students from 2.0 to 2.5, although most universities receive so many applications that the cutoff ends of being far higher for most students. The exact cutoff usually depends on how competitive the applicant pool is.
Plans by the state's public universities show several hope to increase the credentials of incoming students in the next few years. Florida A&M in Tallahassee expects the average GPA for its incoming students to be 3.31 by 2015, up from 3.21. The University of North Florida expects average GPAs to rise from 3.89 to 3.93, although many students will be admitted with lower GPAs.
The University of West Florida wants to boost its average SAT scores from 1537 to 1621.
FAU has been taking steps in recent years to try to improve the academic profile of its students. In 2011, the university hired a consultant to help it get more students to apply. Applications have doubled in recent years, with more than 20,000 this year.
"FAU used to be considered mostly open door, mostly local. It was pretty easy to get into," said Rob Seltzer, associate vice president for enrollment management. "Now I think we're a little more selective in terms of what we're looking for."
Seltzer said high school GPAs in general have risen over the years, partly due to more students taking college-level classes that have more weight than traditional high school courses. He said FAU is turning down many students with B averages.
"A B student is not a very strong student in most public high schools these days," he said. "If you have a 3.0, you're probably in the bottom half of the schools in Florida."
While average students may have a tougher time, there are still plenty of options, said Mandee Heller Adler, president of the Boca Raton-based International College Counselors, an advising service.
State colleges, formerly known as community colleges, have been increasing the number of four-year degrees they offer. Students can get into a state college as long as they have a high school degree.
"Everything's getting tougher, but a student who can pass the FCAT, has relatively good grades and has become involved in clubs and activities will have options," Adler said. "It's not as dire as it might seem."
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HOW THEY STACK UP
|Average GPA||Average SAT||Six-year graduation rate|
|Florida A&M University||3.21||1438||40%|
|Florida Atlantic University||3.4||1600||40%|
|Florida Gulf Coast University||3.4||1528||44%|
|Florida International University||3.7||1704||48%|
|Florida State University||4.0||1839||76%|
|Nova Southeastern University||3.65||n/a||43%|
|University of Central Florida||3.91||1831||66%|
|University of Florida||4.2||1920||85%|
|University of Miami||4.2||1925||78%|
|University of South Florida||3.93||1785||56%|
GPAs and SAT scores are averages, not minimum requirements.
Sources: Florida Board of Governors, U.S. Department of Education