Texas Southern University has an alarmingly low graduation rate, but the school’s new president hopes to change that by ending the long practice of admitting all applicants, regardless of their academic background.

President John Rudley said the change is needed to restore the tarnished image of the state’s largest historically black university, which has struggled with management missteps and sliding enrollment.

About 70 percent of first-time freshmen arrive at Texas Southern without the skills needed to do college work, according to the university.

More than half leave before achieving sophomore status. And only 16 percent earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared with 55 percent statewide.

Rudley faulted Texas Southern’s policy of accepting anyone who passed the high school equivalency test. Instead, he said, students should earn their place through their test scores and grades.

“A university shouldn’t have to accept anybody with a GED,” he said, referring to the equivalency test. “That means they didn’t complete high school but they can come here without the same preparation as others and then be expected to compete.”

The idea could be a tough sell among alumni and parents of prospective students who see the open-admissions policy as a ticket to a better life for people who might not otherwise be able to attend college, said John Sapp Jr., a chemistry professor at Texas Southern.

The last president to propose breaking from open admissions — William Harris in 1992 — resigned three months later, said Sapp, who is also a Texas Southern graduate.