Diversity Under Test-Optional Admissions

A Vanderbilt professor has been vocal on the issue of test-optional admissions policies not leading to more diverse student bodies (photo credit: Dansan4444).

When America’s elite colleges ushered in test-optional admissions policies, it was because they didn’t have much of a choice. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to cancelations of SAT and ACT test administrations across America and around the world. America’s colleges, during the time well before the vaccines rolled out, couldn’t continue to require students to submit test scores in light of so many school closures, test cancelations, and fears about the spreading virus. But in a world in which so much seemed grim at the time, many admissions officers at America’s elite universities saw one potential benefit about new test-optional admissions policies: it could lead to more diverse student bodies.

You see, for decades, critics of the SAT and ACT have derided these exams as discriminatory against low-income students as well as students who happen to be underrepresented minorities. After all, with great SAT or ACT tutoring, students can so often land significantly improved test scores. But no matter the charge for tutoring, low-income students, many of whom in America’s elite college applicant pools are also underrepresented minorities, can’t necessarily afford it. So the thinking among admissions officers at the time was that going test-optional would inspire more low-income students and underrepresented minorities to apply now that this obstacle was removed from the course.

And that they did. Since elite colleges have gone test-optional in 2020, the applicant pools at these schools has grown ever more diverse. But applicant pools are not student bodies. Just because more low-income and underrepresented minority students are applying doesn’t mean they’re getting in. As Jill Barshay writes in The Hechinger Report in a piece entitled “PROOF POINTS: Colleges that ditched test scores for admissions find it’s harder to be fair in choosing students, researcher says,” [Kelly] Slay, [a Vanderbilt University professor who has been speaking to many admissions officers this year to fully understand test-optional admissions policies,] is hearing from colleges that test-optional policies have increased the diversity of the applicant pool, but it may not translate into a more diverse student body. ‘One of the things we concluded is that test optional does not mean an increase in diversity – racial diversity or socio-economic diversity,’ said Slay. ‘If we haven’t figured out how to review students who come from diverse backgrounds who come from schools where they may not have the same access to AP or IB courses, then that could mean that these students still aren’t going to be admitted.'”

So what will America’s elite colleges do to endeavor to increase diversity under test-optional admissions policies if going test-optional doesn’t lead to increased diversity in the student bodies? That remains to be seen. Do stay tuned!

 
 

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