ACT averages climb for freshmen, concerning some

Freshmen need increasingly high ACT scores for admission, data shows, which some fear could hinder student body diversity.

Cleo Krejci

Average ACT scores for enrolled freshmen at the University of Minnesota are climbing, but some believe the trend is hurting the diversity of incoming students.

As of the fall 2017 semester, 29.4 percent of current freshmen scored in the highest ACT score bracket — between 31 and 36. In fall 2001, the percentage of students in that bracket was 6.8 percent.

The climbing scores reflect one of the goals of a 2015 Board of Regents agenda, which requires that the student body maintain an average ACT score of 28 or higher, said Bob McMaster, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education.

Robert Katz, library assistant at the University, is concerned with how ACT score expectations may impact the racial and economic diversity of the University’s student body. 

“I think that universities… like to have quantifiable targets, and this is a good one,” Katz said. “They tend to equate it with quality, but it depends on what you think the University should be doing.”

Katz authored an Oct. 19 commentary article in the Star Tribune titled “How test scores can block black students from the University of Minnesota.”

He said he hopes the University will put less emphasis on ACT scores and increase its diversity.

“[Students are] being prevented from coming to the University by these ACT scores by the way the University is applying them,” Katz said.

Kate Ruhland, sociology sophomore, was able to hire a tutor in high school and raised her ACT score by eight points, she said. Her high school also offered accelerated International Baccalaureate classes which taught students to write college essays.

“That comes from a lot of outside privilege,” Ruhland said.

Scott Jaschik, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Education news, said disparities exist between student demographics and ACT scores. 

Typically, white and Asian test-takers get higher scores than African-American and Latino students, Jaschik said. Wealthy students also test higher than less wealthy students.

“This is a trend for many years, and it doesn’t appear to be going away,” he said. 

Others are concerned with the standardized test’s connection to economics.

“There’s so much money attached to that score,” said Julienne Kirschling, 12th grade school counselor who helps students prepare for college at White Bear Lake High School.

“It isn’t just getting into the college, it’s trying to help college become more affordable,” Kirschling added.

In response to these criticisms, Jaschik said many colleges are moving toward a test-optional admission process that does not mandate ACT scores.

He added this is unlikely for larger universities like the University of Minnesota because it requires large admissions staffs.

The University practices a holistic admissions policy, which takes into account non-academic factors when reviewing applications.

Michael Rodolfo Corda, psychology sophomore, said despite receiving a 31 on the ACT, he was denied admission the first time he applied for what he thinks was a low high school GPA. 

“Having higher average ACT scores is a good thing in general, it makes the school more competitive,” said Rodolfo Corda. “But at the same time, the ACT scores aren’t… the only thing that they can take into consideration when doing admissions.”

McMaster said he thinks the average scores will remain around 28, and, at this time, there are no plans to alter the admission process.