Twenty-five years ago the City University of New York took allcomers from around the world who swarmed into America via the Big Apple and managed to graduate from high school.
That open admissions policy was first modified in the late 1970s when the city's 11 four-year colleges began to require students to show they were in the top one-third of their class in high school. Last week the restrictions went further.
CUNY will no longer accept students who cannot complete all remedial work in their first year.
The policy, which takes effect in autumn next year, has been introduced to save money at one of the world's largest universities. It will save about $2 million of the $17 million spent on remedial education each year.
It is part of a package of budget cuts including raising tuition fees by $750 to $3,200 a year, at four-year colleges, and by $400 a year, to $2,500, at community colleges.
A staggering third of students entering four-year colleges take at least one remedial course, usually in writing, reading or mathematics. Most are immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Any student who has to retake a remedial course will be expected to go to night school or to one of the six community colleges.
Once admitted to a four-year college, students will not be able to take a remedial course more than twice. If they fail twice, they will have to go to a community college.
"We want to do remediation at the beginning, faster and more intensively," said the university's chancellor, Ann Reynolds.
Critics claim that the university is abandoning one of its overarching aims: to serve the city's disadvantaged. They say it will lead to more racial segregation in New York's higher education system.
But the stricter policy is part of a national movement to improve standards in higher education.