University testing center to close

Private companies now have exclusive rights to administer some exams.

University testing center to close

Kathryn Elliott

Students bound for graduate school will have to add some travel time to their long exam days once the Eddy Hall testing center closes June 30.

University of Minnesota students taking exams like the GRE and MCAT will have to go to test centers in Edina, Woodbury and Bloomington, Minn., when the computer-based testing center closes for financial reasons âÄî âÄúa big inconvenienceâÄù for many students, said Holly Bui, president of the American Medical Student Association for premedical students.

Summer construction will add confusion to public transportation, she said.

âÄúI donâÄôt see how it could be an advantage for [the University], because itâÄôs a disadvantage for us.âÄù

The University Counseling and Consulting Services Testing Center administered more than 12,800 exams in 2009-10. More than half took place in the computer-based testing center in the basement of Eddy Hall.

Now students and community members, like the 3,000 who took the GRE at the center last year, will take their exams at corporate facilities of private testing companies like Pearson VUE and Prometric.

UCCS director Glenn Hirsch said this appears to be part of a national trend toward the privatization of the testing industry. Testing centers like the one on campus, whose main source of revenue is testing fees, struggle to bring in enough money to stay afloat.

âÄúWe looked at every possible alternative [to closing the center],âÄù Hirsch said. âÄúWe couldnâÄôt find enough areas to expand to that were going to solve the economic issues we were facing.âÄù

During the 2009-10 academic year, the center generated about $205,000 in test fee revenue. ThatâÄôs pennies compared to a private testing organization like Pearson VUE, which is part of an $8 billion corporation that administers millions of tests.

âÄúTheyâÄôre companies that are trying to run a business and be profitable, and I donâÄôt fault them for that,âÄù Hirsch said.

Many factors make keeping the campus testing center economically impractical, Hirsch said.

First, the University recently lost the rights to administer three exams that made up 30 percent of computer-based tests it offered. Private companies now have exclusive rights to administer social work certification exams, the Minnesota Teaching Licensure Examinations and the Pharmacy College Admission Test.

At least one of the companies, Pearson VUE, negotiated to allow the University the rights to continue administering the Minnesota Teaching Licensure Examinations. But Hirsch said UCCS was concerned that the reimbursement rate wouldnâÄôt cover the centerâÄôs costs.

Another option, moving the testing center with the rest of UCCS to Appleby Hall, would call for security renovations that might have cost double UCCSâÄô available funds, according to a news release.

The testing facility in Eddy Hall met security specifications like sealed ceilings, separate server rooms and limited custodial access.

While David Espinoza, president of the National College Testing Association, hasnâÄôt necessarily seen a trend toward privatization, he said large testing companies donâÄôt benefit from allowing college centers to give tests unless test takers donâÄôt have access to a corporate location. But companies like Pearson VUE have locations throughout Minnesota.

Espinoza said one advantage to the campus centers is that their mission is service and availability for students âÄî instead of profit.

While they may spend more on gas to get to the next-nearest testing centers in Eagan or Brooklyn Park, Minn., students wonâÄôt see a change in exam fees. Rates are set by test-specific organizations, Espinoza said.

The last exam will be given June 30 and July will be used to wipe hard-drives and ship materials back to their parent companies, Hirsch said.