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Test-optional admissions may cut into community colleges

New data released by the College Board shows that a growing number of students are submitting college applications without standardized test scores. Additionally, the number of schools that have established test-optional admissions policies has significantly increased. That could spell bad news for community colleges hoping to admit recent high school graduates.

According to the College Board, 700,000 fewer students took the SAT this year than last year. That is due, in part, to the unavailability of testing centers in the spring. But that’s not the only thing at work here.

In 2019-2020, 78% of applicants whose parents also had a college degree submitted test scores with college applications. In 2020-2021, just 43% of students provided colleges and universities with their test scores. Among all first-generation college applicants, just 31% submitted standardize test scores.

This is the stat community colleges should worry about. First generation college students often come from low-income households. The test-optional admissions policies have found favor with everyone from student applicants to university admissions offices. Removing the “test barrier” enables colleges and universities to collect more applications from minority hopefuls without running afoul of federal law.

90% of colleges and universities that accept the Common Application have test-optional or test-blind admission process. Both the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University use the Common App. That simple act could inspire a large portion of applicants to forego admissions at community colleges in favor of universities.

More deeply alarming, many large schools are at least considering eliminating the testing requirement altogether. A change of that magnitude could set community colleges reeling. Not only are community colleges likely to lose the interests of marginal students, but also scores of minority students looking for low-cost college options.

Test optional admissions are likely here to stay

Over the last few years, questions have arisen about the value of standardized test results in admissions decisions. Implicit and explicit bias may have skewed the results of testing for minority applications. Further, they will be contending with a declining number of college-ready high school graduates. Colleges and universities may address these questions simply by eliminating standardized testing requirements. Low-income and minority students are much less likely to submit test scores with applications when that option is available. That may have the effect of increasing minority admissions to four-year colleges and universities.

The College Board also reported on a growing phenomenon: selective submission of test scores. Nearly one-quarter of test-takers opted to submit their test scores to some universities but not others. These applicants were more likely to show their test scores to highly selective universities and exercise disclosure options for less selective institutions.

For community colleges, which are- for the most part – non-selective, developing new strategies to attract high school graduates will be essential for maintaining enrollment. Additionally, community colleges may need to rely more heavily on recruitment and admissions of older students to maintain enrollment numbers.

WCC has a healthy collection of highly compensated administrators. I look forward to seeing what the Washtenaw County taxpayers get for our outsized investment in executives.

Photo Credit: Kevin Wong , via Flickr