UA looking to follow Kent State in staying test-optional in admissions

For the last two years, students applying to the University of Akron and Kent State University the have had the choice of whether to include their ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process. 

It was necessary flexibility in 2020 and 2021, when COVID-19 made taking the test a significant hurdle.

But going “test optional” in admissions appears to be a pandemic-era change that is going to stick. 

Kent State made the decision a year ago to permanently leave it up to students whether to submit their test scores. Akron appears ready to follow, with the university’s faculty senate approving the change March 3. The proposal heads to the Board of Trustees next month for approval. 

Akron Provost John Wiencek said while standardized tests have been part of admissions requirements for decades, they aren’t always the fairest measure of a student’s ability. 

“It actually excludes students that probably would benefit the most from a college education in terms of socio-economic mobility,” he said. “So I’ve always been a fan of at least providing other avenues for admissions, holistic-based evaluations.”

For the last two admitted classes to the university, Akron has relied on a more holistic approach, looking more heavily at a student’s grade-point average and transcripts. In the case where a student has a lower GPA, however, submitting a test score could be a data point that pushes them over the hump.

Leaving that up to students relieves the pressure of having to worry about a bad test score bringing them down, he said. 

“When we tell them they don’t have to submit a test, we get so many more students interested,” he said.

Test scores will still be used for placement in classes when they are admitted, he said. If students don’t submit an ACT or SAT, they will be required to take placement tests upon arrival at the university. 

University of Akron Provost John Wiencek

Wiencek said he doesn’t see forgoing testing requirements as a lowering of admissions standards, but as the university being true to its mission of increasing college accessibility and giving students their best shot at economic mobility. 

“The kind of student we deal with is not going to change substantially because of this,” he said. “If anything we’re going to put students at ease in applying and knowing that they’ll be considered holistically.”

The faculty senate saw it the same way, rejecting the idea that standards would be lowered. 

“Making these test scores a major criteria for entrance can disadvantage those students who may not have access to preparatory courses, or be able to afford the cost of retesting to raise their scores,” Faculty Senate Chairwoman Kathryn Budd said in remarks to the senate last week. 

“Additionally, the pandemic and remote schooling have negatively affected many students’ ability to perform as well as they otherwise would, if they’re able to access a test at all.”

More than half UA applicants opt against submitting test scores

Of the high school class that graduated in 2021 and the class about to graduate this spring, about 60% of students elected not to have a test score included in their admissions decision. 

At Kent, about 50% of students in the 2021 high school class didn’t submit a test score. That went down to 45% for this year’s high school seniors. 

For both universities, no institutional merit-based scholarships will be reliant on a test score, so not submitting scores won’t take students out of the running for those. Some donor-funded scholarships still have a minimum test score requirement, but both universities said they are working with donors to change that. 

Sean Broghammer, Kent’s vice president for enrollment management, said the university only considers a student’s test scores in admissions decisions if it helps them. 

“A test score is not going to hurt your application to Kent State,” Broghammer said. “We don’t look at a low test score as being a mark against you.”

Test score ‘not predictive of their future success’

Kent made the change to test-optional permanent after just one class of students being admitted under the new system. 

Broghammer said the university had to work with individual departments — like nursing and engineering — to help review student applications for those programs when test scores were not submitted to make sure students showed enough strength in mathematics or science elsewhere in their applications.

It’s a more time-consuming process, he said, but has worked well.

The fall 2021 freshman class had the strongest average GPA in the university’s history, and a record number of students from historically underrepresented groups, he said. 

Whether to go test-optional has been a conversation that has circulated for years in higher education, but the pandemic put it front and center. Broghammer said it was an easier decision at Kent to remove the requirement because data showed test scores have not been correlated with higher graduation or retention rates from the university. 

“I think what we’ve shown here is that for our students and the majors that we offer and the programs, that the test score is not predictive of their future success here,” he said. 

Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at [email protected], at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.