The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents changed its policy on requiring applicants to provide SAT or ACT scores. The move allows Maryland’s 12 state universities to decide for themselves whether to require applicants to submit standardized test scores.
Originally seen as an accommodation to the pandemic, dropping standardized test scores has produced some unexpected benefits for large universities. First, it returns to the universities what Gratz v. Bollinger took away: access to applicants from marginalized communities.
Second, it increases the overall applicant pool. Students who may have been discouraged by a “poor performance” on the SAT test, can now submit their applications without fear of having their college choices defined by a specific test. By eliminating standardized test scores, universities have invited a larger number of applicants to join their parties. And by all accounts, they are doing just that.
Another complicating factor for community colleges is the Common App, which more than 900 universities now use. The Common App enables students to fill out a single application form, pay application fees and distribute their applications to any number of participating institutions. Simplifying the application process can significantly increase the number of applicants an institution sees. For the applicant, it lowers the overall cost of applying to multiple institutions and reduces the amount of effort a student must make to apply for admission.
This is a direct attack on community colleges’ stock-in-trade: transfer programs to larger universities. When students can apply directly to their favorite universities, there’s little reason to take the transfer route to a university.
Using standardized test scores to compete on price
The community college’s traditional advantage is that it can lower the overall cost of education by charging lower tuition rates. The university can neutralize this advantage with enormous grant aid, provided it can reach marginalized applicants. When the university requires test scores, marginalized students won’t even submit applications because they believe they do not reflect the desired profile. Eliminating standardized test requirements allows these students to bypass community colleges
Continuing to compete directly with universities for low-income students is foolish. Universities don’t do vocational and occupational education. Community colleges should concentrate on rebuilding their vocational education capabilities. Although private, for-profit colleges have done well in this space, their program offerings are insanely expensive. By adding programs for high-wage jobs, accelerating course delivery, and lowering overall costs, community colleges can again compete very effectively in this sector.
Competition for a limited applicant pool will not go away. If community colleges want to compete, they’re going to have to re-establish themselves as the primary source for low-cost, high-value vocational/occupational education.
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