About half the freshmen entering Weber State College lack the academic skills to handle college-level classes and many have only elementary-school reading skills, officials say.

"We're getting students who read on the fourth-grade level," said academic Vice President Robert Smith while addressing the possibility of the school imposing academic admission standards.Of 2,446 freshmen who applied to the college in 1987 in anticipation of enrolling, 1,674 had ACT scores indicating they needed remedial help, said Marie Kotter, WSC student services vice president.

"And about half of the 1,815 first-time freshmen who did register for WSC classes fall quarter lacked sufficient competency in English or math skills, or both, to assure their success in college," she said.

A reading test administered in the winter quarter to 129 Weber State students enrolled in a Center for Academic Retention and Enrichment, or CARE, class to improve writing skills showed the average reading skills of the students to be at the fourth-grade level, CARE coordinator Marlene Cousens told school officials in a memo.

She reported that the reading level of the writing test administered to 300 students in a CARE math class was seventh-grade.

"The test ought to have taken no longer than 50 minutes . . . a good reader can complete the test in 15 minutes while a poor reader usually will finish in 45 minutes," Cousens said. "Many of our writing students took 85 minutes to complete the test."

She said it was administered only to students enrolled in the CARE program, which was begun as one answer to the high dropout rate of WSC students, particularly students with academic deficiencies. But she said she believes the problems exist all over the campus.

Kotter said the problem is not just one of academics.

"I see it as a real moral issue," she said. "If we admit these students, we are setting them up for failure. The dropout rate for these students has been extremely high."

The standard policy at Weber State and at other Utah higher-education institutions, barring a few exceptions at the University of Utah, has been to accept all students, even those who have not demonstrated a competency to handle college-level courses.

Kotter said, "It would be easy to point a finger at the public school systems that hand out high school diplomas perhaps too easily."