The University of St. Thomas will join a growing number of colleges that do not require prospective students to submit an ACT or SAT score.
President Julie Sullivan announced the change during her state of the university address Thursday.
“We are acknowledging overwhelming evidence showing standardized test scores do not tell the full story of a student’s potential,” she said. “As such, we believe they should not stand between a student’s ability to attain that future.”
More than 1,000 U.S. colleges are test-optional, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which says the number is growing.
Al Cotrone, vice president for enrollment at the St. Paul private school, said the trend caused St. Thomas officials to take a close look at the research. They concluded their admissions process likely misses quality students who, for whatever reason, didn’t do well on a college admissions exam.
“For a lot of students, that standardized test, whether it’s the ACT or SAT, is not necessarily the best reflection of how they’ll perform in the classroom or after college,” he said.
A 2018 study of 28 colleges that made the change found the number of applications increased after going test-optional, especially from underrepresented groups such as African Americans and Latinos. And those who were accepted and enrolled without submitting a test score were at least as likely as their peers to graduate on time.
St. Thomas says it’s concerned about “inherent bias” in college admissions tests and that scores are a better predictor of family income than success in college.
Just 20% of enrolled Tommies are students of color — a number that figures to increase as a result of the test-optional move.
“If that happens, that’d be great … but I wouldn’t say that was a primary motivator,” Cotrone said.
The nonprofit ACT, Inc., has responded to criticism over the fairness of its test by offering free test preparation to anyone who wants it.
Just over half of U.S. high school graduates last year had taken the ACT, down sharply from three years prior.
The change at St. Thomas starts with the incoming class of 2021. Prospective students will decide for themselves whether to include an ACT score.
For students who don’t list their scores, admissions officers will rely more heavily on extracurricular activities, high school grades, essays and whether students took difficult classes.
“We are really going to have to dig into a student’s application in great detail,” Cotrone said. “I do worry about the increased resources it’s going to take to review these applications.”
St. Thomas admits about 80 percent of all applicants. The middle half of the 2016 freshman class had composite ACT scores between 24 and 29 on a 36-point scale — fifth-highest among all Minnesota colleges and universities.
Augsburg University and Concordia University, St. Paul both made the change to test-optional in 2018.
The University of Minnesota Crookston began a four-year trial for test-optional admissions last year, partly as a response to declining interest in the school.
The U’s Twin Cities campus, where the median ACT score has climbed past 28, still requires test scores despite some interest in going test-optional among members of the Board of Regents.
Officials at the U have said the ACT remains a useful predictor of college success, especially as many high schools have stopped including class rank on students’ transcripts.