California: UC considers going test-optional, new law funds emergency student aid

The University of California (UC) system is weighing whether to continue requiring standardized test scores as part of its admissions criteria, the The L.A. Times reports. UC requires its applicants to submit scores from either the SAT or ACT—a policy which “half a century ago… helped catapult the SAT to a place of national prominence in the college admissions process.” Because of UC’s size and influence as one of the nation’s leading public research universities, the decision is likely to influence how other higher education institutions view the role of standardized testing in college admissions.

“Whatever we do will be a national precedent,” UC President Janet Napolitano said. “And so … we want to get it right.”

Panel considers tests’ alignment with UC values, alternative options

The university—to which more than 176,500 students apply each year—launched a special 18-member faculty task force 10 months ago to study its standardized test policy and produce a report with recommendations by early next year. Approximately 1,000 other universities around the country have made the decision to go test-optional, citing evidence that scores are correlated with socioeconomic background and parents’ education level.

Related: The Chicago effect: Selective schools adopt ‘test-optional’ policy at an increasing pace >

UC Regents Vice Chair Cecilia Estolano has advocated for going test-optional, saying that the SAT uses a “clearly flawed methodology that has a discriminatory impact.” Still, UC’s Academic Senate Chairwoman Kum-Kum Bhavnani said, “any decision needed to be well-grounded in research to stand up to the reaction it will unleash,” The L.A. Times paraphrased.

The panel is considering downstream implications of a test-optional policy, as well as a range of alternatives, such as controlling for socioeconomic factors in evaluating SAT/ACT scores. Eddie Comeaux, who is co-leading the task force, acknowledged that “this is a deeply important issue we are wrestling with” and any recommendations must be “aligned with our values in improving access, diversity, and creating the most equitable model possible,” he told EdSource.

Meanwhile, new California law funds emergency student aid

Targeting other obstacles to degree attainment, California higher ed leaders recently made headlines for a new law that will allow community colleges to draw from a $475.2 million state fund to help students overcome unforeseen financial challenges, Inside Higher Ed reports. The California Community Colleges Student Equity and Achievement Program currently supports “student success services” like tutoring, mentoring, and equity-focused professional development for faculty. With the new bill—one of several higher education-related bills signed recently by California governor Gavin Newsom—colleges can use the funds to provide eligible students with emergency financial aid for housing, food, textbooks, and transportation.

According to a survey from the Hope Center, 70 percent of community college students and 61 percent of four-year students experienced food or housing insecurity last year. “With the cost of education as high as it is, many students are just one financial crisis away from being forced to drop out of school,” said David Chiu, a state representative from San Francisco who authored the bill. “We want to give students who experience an emergency a bit of stability so they can continue their studies.”

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