Southern Oregon University has tightened rules to bar people without a standard diploma or GED from attending university classes.

Southern Oregon University has tightened rules to bar people without a standard diploma or GED from attending university classes.

University officials say the new policy for "non-admitted students" reflects a surge in demand for college classes and is in line with rules at universities around the nation.

"What we did was take a look at what other colleges were doing across the country, and what we found was it's a pretty standard policy," said SOU spokesman Jim Beaver.

Non-admitted students may take up to eight credits without paying an application fee.

The revision follows the university's recent decision to remove a 20-year-old woman with Down syndrome from an SOU art class.

Ashland resident Deb Evans says the revised policy appears to be designed to exclude people with intellectual disabilities, including her daughter, Eliza Schaaf, who has been in the media spotlight since SOU dropped her from a ceramics course last fall because she needed "excessive supervision."

Schaaf has a modified high school diploma from Ashland High School, the type of degree given to people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities who cannot complete the same level of academic work as regular education students.

Before the revisions, SOU's policy did not explicitly prohibit people with a modified diploma from enrolling as a non-admitted pupil.

Schaaf's classmates protested the university's decision, saying Schaaf never disrupted their ability to learn or do their work.

"SOU keeps moving in the opposite direction of where we want them to move," Evans said.

University officials say the policy change is a reflection of a changing market in higher education. The university's Faculty Senate and President Mary Cullinan have already signed off on the revisions.

SOU has, in fact, had record enrollment the past two years. Enrollment stands at about 6,500, a 26 percent increase from the previous year, and some students complain they have difficulty getting into some classes.

Nonetheless, SOU junior Emery Way says he would prefer SOU to be more inclusive of students rather than more exclusive.

"I think we are coming to a crossroads here between what the administration sees the university being, which is the old guard view that the university is a just a place to get a degree for a job, as opposed to a newer trend, which more students subscribe to, which is also creating a community of the future and a melting pot," Emery said. "We are not exactly the biggest fans of the new policy right now."

Way says he'd like to see a program that allows students with intellectual disabilities to experience college at SOU. He says the university should also hire more professors to accommodate the boom.

Due to the economic downturn and a more competitive job market, more people across the nation have returned to college for retraining or degree advancement, causing a rise in college enrollment.

In the past, SOU, which experienced declining enrollment until 2007, placed few restrictions on non-admitted students.

Under the revised policy, fewer people will be accepted as non-admitted students. Students with modified or extended high school diplomas, students under the age of 17 and international students without approval from an international student advisor would not qualify as a non-admitted student.

The changes have no effect on the university's Advanced Southern Credit dual-credit program at Southern Oregon high schools or on the Early Entry program in which high school pupils attend class at SOU, said Jeanne Stallman, SOU executive director of outreach and engagement.

More than 1,000 high school students participate in the Advanced Southern Credit program each year. Fewer than 100 are part of Early Entry.

In addition, non-admitted students in graduate-level courses are now limited in the number of graduate credits they can take before they must apply to be admitted in a graduate program. The limit depends on the program.

Non-admitted students may still enroll online no sooner than two weeks before the class begins. Enrollment is based on available space, and an admitted student always has precedence over a non-admitted one.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or email pachen@mailtribune.com.