U leaders debate use of ACT test

U leaders are split on whether the school should be test-optional.

Youssef Rddad

As thousands of students prepare to take the ACT, some University of Minnesota officials are debating if the test should factor into the school’s admissions. 
Some University leaders have called for the school to drop the ACT requirement due to the large number of applicants each year. Regents debated the matter as part of larger enrollment strategy discussions during the last board meeting.
Administrators say it would be difficult to holistically review all applicants — which some years have exceeded 40,000. 
“There’s just way too much emphasis on ACT — not only here but elsewhere,” said Regent Michael Hsu, adding that he feels the University should adopt test-optional requirements where students could decide whether or not they submit ACT or SAT scores. 
Hsu also called average ACT score calculations at the University a “red herring” because the school only factors in new freshmen and excludes other parts of the student body such as transfer students. 
“There are more elite schools than us that are going test-optional, and I think we ought to look at that,” he said. 
Requiring the ACT for admissions makes it difficult to attract out-of-state and urban students, Hsu added.
Still, Minnesotans perform better on the ACT compared to the rest of the country. Last fall, incoming College of Liberal Arts freshmen earned between 26 and 30 on their
ACTs on average, almost 3.5 points higher than the state’s average, according to information by the state’s higher education office.
Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said while the school places importance on ACT scores, the admissions office also factors in grade point average and high school class rank as well. It also considers whether a student participated in extracurricular activities or received awards. 
The majority of colleges and Universities that don’t require an ACT or SAT are often smaller liberal arts colleges, he said.
“As we’re processing 48,000 applications, we have to have some kind of metric to apply,” McMaster said. “As I pointed out to the Board, that doesn’t mean everybody has a 28.2 [ACT score].”
McMaster also pointed to research which showed that ACT scores are a strong indicator of student performance in college. 
Devin Foley, the president of Better Ed, a Bloomington-based education advocacy group, stressed a similar point. 
Without certain metrics like the ACT, Foley said, under-qualified students may be more likely to drop out of college after taking on debt.
“The reality is we’re looking at college. There are going to be a lot of kids who are not able to cut it at the higher education level,” Foley said. “That’s a terrible injustice itself.” 
When factoring in race and ethnicity, most minorities trail behind their white counterparts on ACT scores in Minnesota. 
“Unfortunately, the K-12 system isn’t doing a great job at preparing — particularly kids of color in Minnesota, for higher education,” Foley said.
In the past decade, composite ACT scores for African-Americans have hovered between 17 and 18, about 5.5 points lower than their white peers, according to the ACT. In the same survey, Hispanic and Native American students have also seen numbers stagnate in the past 10 years. 
Those who identify as non-white made up a little more than one in four test takers last year.
Still, Hsu said if the school was to be test-optional, it could attract a more diverse group of students. 
“It makes it difficult for us to accomplish some of our missions,” Hsu said.