Third in a series on strengths in regional universities.
University admission standards have been a bone of contention in higher education for nearly two centuries. Before the progressive movement in the United States, admission to public and private universities was based on social relationships, faith and personal recommendations. Until the land-grant movement, universities charged themselves with providing a classical education to a small population segment. Admissions were elitist. In the early 20th century, institutions began to emphasize insights and skills (professional capacity) that contributed to the general good of the public. The focus of a land-grant system on agriculture, engineering, progressivism and professional education at institutions like Harvard and Princeton embraced the pragmatic skills necessary to move a society forward.
In 1900, the College Entrance Examination Board (College Board) was set up to assess student readiness and ability to perform at the university level. As a follow on, the College Board developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to create opportunities for students based on their abilities rather than social connectedness.
The civil rights movement in the 1960s and its push for affirmative action regarding college admissions caused universities to broaden their view of what would lead to a successful college student. Extracurricular activities to determine readiness was looked at—clubs and organizations, athletics, jobs and other personal characteristics that could provide a peak into what leads to success in university studies. Today we call such admissions processes “holistic assessment.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the limitations placed on access to standardized testing, many universities eliminated the submission requirement of a standardized test score. This has led to the near-universal elimination of standardized tests as one perspective of a student’s potential academic success.
Many commentators believe the elimination of standardized test scores will diminish academic quality. The Hill cites the costs and benefits of “test less admission.” Diversity, access to education and giving all a fair chance at a university experience are powerful points.
The number of students who submit test scores as part of the application has dropped precipitously with COVID-19. Fewer than 4% of United States higher education institutions continue to require test scores. In 2019, 55% of institutions did require those scores. Many in higher education believed that test scores would be considered one aspect of admissions which resumes post-pandemic. That has not turned out to be the case. Purdue University, cutting against the grain, has reinstated the requirements for standardized tests for fall 2024.
At WT, a test-optional approach is employed. It is more personalized and requires the construction of a box, with each student having a unique size and shape based on the four corners of consideration. These four corners are grade-point averages, standardized test scores, class rank and the courses a student has taken to earn their high school diploma. Inside that box are placed extracurricular activities, work experiences, family circumstances and considerations, including the student’s background and other factors as part of the admissions considerations.
Our admissions professionals believe that knowing a student’s test scores can help advise and placement in courses and career options that may produce the best fit. We believe advising and teaching are the twin stars of the educational process. It is one of the reasons that we encourage prospective students to take and report their test scores. These standards, even in their many imperfections, do provide some value. They would be wholly wanting if used as the sole basis for admission. As one consideration of many, they provide insight. To use an athletics analogy reluctantly, a potential halfback who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash but can’t take a mild interruption in the path of progress, aka “a hit,” may not be a good selection for the position even with blistering speed.
The Texas Panhandle owns a “handshake culture.” That means that face-to-face impressions of the person with whom you make the deal are required to make a deal. I encourage students to make personal visits when considering college. These give the student and the university a two-way look at each other. In the end, “fit” provides potential for excellence and strength.
One benefit of being a regionally responsive university is that campus visits are possible, and stronger decisions flow from those visits. Aspirations are achieved. Personalized consideration and rigorous performance standards for admission lead to organizational and individual strength. It is the WT way.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns, with hyperlinks, are available at https://walterwendler.com/