University of Minnesota may keep ACT/SAT test scores optional through 2023

The University of Minnesota may continue to waive ACT and SAT exam requirements for freshman…

The University of Minnesota may continue to waive ACT and SAT exam requirements for freshman applicants through fall 2023, but administrators are not convinced the change should be permanent.

As did most colleges and universities nationwide, the U dropped the standardized test score requirements for applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary change is set to last through the fall 2022 admissions cycle, but administrators told the Board of Regents last week they are more likely to extend it another year than bring back the requirement. A decision will be made this fall.

“I would be reluctant to make a decision now that would be permanent,” U Provost Rachel Croson said during the board’s annual retreat.

She and other regents said they would prefer to review data on how students admitted without test scores perform academically before making a permanent decision.

The move away from standardized testing happened out of necessity during the pandemic, as high school students across the country struggled to access the tests.

However, the value of ACT and SAT tests had been questioned in the years before that, fueled by a growing awareness that test-takers from higher-income households have advantages, such as prep classes and tutors.

The admissions shake-up has given students a chance to instead highlight their grades, accomplishments and extracurricular involvement. About half of students who applied to attend the U’s Twin Cities campus this fall did not include a test score in their application, according to the university.

During last week’s retreat, U leaders and regents were skeptical about making the change permanent.

Test scores are reliable predictors of first-year student success and graduation rates, Croson said.

They also can help admissions counselors identify which students would be a good fit for honors and emerging scholars programs.

Croson said that in the absence of test scores, other measures the university must weigh more heavily have become less reliable in recent years.

The average high school grade-point average of applicants to the U has risen over the past five years from about 3.7 to 3.8, Croson said, making it harder for admissions staff to judge prospective students.

“As GPA becomes more bunched at the top, it becomes less informative,” she said.

Another measure, class rank, is not as helpful as it used to be, either, because fewer students are reporting it. In 2011, 67{2d938d47ac7873b013cd2d1cdd4986b375605db154fc4a4d92e89dc0706e5f15} of applicants reported their class rank on their application, Croson said. That number fell to 39{2d938d47ac7873b013cd2d1cdd4986b375605db154fc4a4d92e89dc0706e5f15} in 2020.

“That’s mostly driven by suburban schools where parents are putting pressure on the school not to create a report for class rank,” Croson said.

Such factors should be considered when determining whether to permanently drop the university’s test score requirement, Regent Janie Mayeron said. She urged Croson and President Joan Gabel to be “very careful” with their decision, adding that she does not want the university to “jump on the bandwagon” only because its peer institutions do it.

But university leaders said they are watching what other Big Ten schools are doing.

The University of Nebraska and Indiana University have become permanently test-optional, while four other schools in the conference have signaled they will remain that way through at least 2023. Eight universities, including the U, are test-optional through 2022 and determining their next steps.

“We have to remember we’re in a competitive market,” Gabel said.

Regent Steve Sviggum, vice chairman of the board, argued the university should not be afraid to have high admissions standards, including requiring ACT and SAT scores.

“The citizens, who are the taxpayers, say, ‘We want those high standards,’ ” Sviggum said.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234

Twitter: @ryanfaircloth

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