Will U. of Chicago’s new test-optional policy spur peers to do the same?

The University of Chicago on June 14 announced that it will no longer require undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, becoming the first of the nation’s most selective universities to adopt that policy, the Chicago Tribune reports. The move is part of a broader effort, dubbed UChicago Empower, intended to “leve[l] the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant,” according to the school.

In addition to reducing its emphasis on standardized test scores, Chicago will invite applicants to submit short video introductions and to permit students to submit their own transcripts to curb associated fees. The school also announced expanded financial aid, saying it will provide full-tuition scholarships for families making less than $125,000 and new scholarships specifically for veterans and their children, as well as children of police officers and firefighters. All first-generation students, meanwhile, will have a guaranteed paid summer internship and scholarships totaling $20,000 across four years.

The Tribune notes that the announcement not only “marks a dramatic shift” for Chicago—where more than 25 percent of incoming freshmen last year had perfect or nearly perfect standardized test scores—but also reflects the broader debate over standardized test scores in college admissions. Hundreds of other colleges have already eliminated their SAT or ACT requirements, citing the test’s cost burden and research showing that white students, Asian students, and students from higher-income families perform better on the exams than those from less-wealthy families and Black and Latine students. Chicago’s dean of admissions asserted that, because of this, “many underresourced and underrepresented students, families, and school advisors perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible.”

Proponents of standardized tests, however, say they help paint a picture independent of variability across schools and states. Some also question whether test-optional policies will truly inflect schools’ diversity. A 2018 study of 955,774 applicants at 28 schools, however, showed that the adoption of test-optional admissions resulted in increased enrollment among Black and Latine students without compromising completion rates.

While the debate continues, Inside Higher Ed says some experts are counting on Chicago’s announcement to prompt other elite schools to follow suit. “It will absolutely influence other small and large elite institutions, as well as less selective publics and privates,” says Don Hossler of the school of education at the University of Southern California. “It will have a ripple effect across all sectors.”

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