Two More Colleges Drop ACT/SAT Requirements

University Testing
It's a list that just keeps growing. Lake Forest College in Illinois and Salisbury University in Maryland have joined the ranks of undergraduate programs which do not require substantial numbers of applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores before admissions decisions are made. Their new policies bring the total of test-optional schools to 734, more than a quarter of all four-year, accredited institutions recognized by the federal government.


"We admit great students, not just great test-takers," said Lake Forest President Stephen D. Schutt in announcing the nationally selective, suburban Chicago college's new requirements. The school's website elaborates: "The admissions staff strives to recruit students who will flourish at Lake Forest College: students who are well-prepared academically, are motivated, enjoy challenges, and are committed to community and campus involvement. A candidate's transcript, recommendations and personal interview best illustrate these qualities."


The explanation continues, "The test-optional policy is consistent with our admissions philosophy and practice of focusing on the student. Our commitment to diversity is further enhanced through a test-optional approach, as standardized tests have long been scrutinized for possible cultural, ethnic, gender and class bias."


Lake Forest is the 28th test-optional school among the nation's "Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges," according to U.S. News & World Report. Its revised admissions process now includes a personal interview and academic writing sample from an upper-level high school course. The new policy goes into effect for applicants seeking to enroll in the fall of 2007.


Salisbury's new policy, a five year pilot study, also applies to this year's high school seniors, as approved in December by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. Under the plan, test requirement are waived for prospective student with high school grade point averages of 3.5 or higher. Salisbury officials expect dropping the admissions exam requirement will increase racial and economic diversity. "Quite frankly, we believe the SAT is biased against families of low income," said Salisbury President Janet Dudley-Eshbach.


Salisbury is the first public institution in Maryland to make the SAT and ACT optional for many applicants. Its new policy is similar to the one adopted last year by George Mason University in neighboring Virginia (see Examiner, May 2006). Three other schools in the Maryland higher education system, the University of Baltimore, Bowie State University, and Frostburg State University, are also considering test-optional policies.


Unfortunately, another Maryland public college has chosen to increase its emphasis on test scores in the admissions process, ostensibly to increase its attractiveness to males. In a move the newsletter Inside Higher Education headlined as "Affirmative Action for White C+ Guys," Towson University is consciously bending its normal admissions standards to accept applicants with mediocre grades but high SAT scores. More than three-quarters of the students admitted under this special policy in 2006 are males and an overwhelming majority are white.


Reliance on the SAT's well-documented gender bias to manipulate enrollment is a classic case of test score misuse: it is well known that the exam underpredicts the college grades for girls and overpredicts for boys on average (see Examiner, October 1996). Towson's message to high school students is that it is fine to slack off in the high school classroom, so long as you do well on a four-hour test.


Meanwhile, the national trend to de-emphasize admissions scores is likely to continue accelerating. Nearly two dozen schools dropped their ACT and SAT requirements in just the past two years, and many more are in the pipeline. Complete lists of test-optional schools in alphabetical and state-by-state order are available here.