UMN-Crookston adopts test-optional admissions model

In a bid to garner more applicants, Crookston becomes first University of Minnesota campus to make test scores optional.

by Jake Steinberg

After getting her ACT score back, Bethany Novak said she remembers going home and crying, “I’m not getting in anywhere.”

Her graduating class in Dahlen, North Dakota was four. “With small schools, we don’t have a lot of test prep,” she said. “I had no idea how to do that test at all.”

Now, she’s positioned to graduate with a marketing major from the University of Minnesota-Crookston. She said her involvement in basketball, volleyball, theater and yearbook outweighed her test score on college applications. 

Students who want to go to University of Minnesota-Crookston will no longer have to submit a standardized test score with their application.

The Board of Regents recently approved the campus’ transition to a test-optional admissions model. This fall, Crookston will join a growing number of schools that have determined test scores don’t help them make better decisions about who to admit — and that requiring applicants take a $50 test limits access to higher education for people already at a disadvantage.

The change will take effect in fall 2019 for students applying to attend in 2020, making the Crookston campus the only school in the region with a test-optional model. 

Vice Chancellor John Hoffman said a review of the campus’ admissions revealed a high ACT score didn’t say anything about whether a student would succeed.

“We just believe that what students do over four years in terms of coursework and co-curricular experiences is going to tell us more than what they do in approximately four hours when they sit for a test,” he said.

The review found only 8 percent of students admitted with low high school grades and a high ACT score graduated within four years. The opposite was also true, leading Crookston to conclude that ACT scores led to poor admissions decisions.

“We were actually screening out students who likely could have been very successful here at the University of Minnesota-Crookston,” he said.

The campus’ admissions process is holistic. It considers grades, extracurricular activity and an essay to decide who to admit. Students aren’t eligible for this review unless they submitted a SAT or ACT score. A growing body of research suggests standardized tests limit who schools consider admitting.

A 2009 review from the University of California-Berkeley looked at a century of standardized test data and found the SAT and the ACT do a poor job of predicting success for students of color. Students of color often have less access than white students to tutoring, and fewer opportunities for retakes.

“College entrance tests and related test preparation activities have contributed mightily to what has been called the ‘educational arms race,’” the authors wrote. “Many deserving low-income and minority students are squeezed out in this competition.”

A growing number of schools have made submitting test scores optional. The University of Chicago announced last summer it would be switching its admissions model. Augsburg University recently changed its model too. Many schools hope making tests optional will diversify their application pool.

“We are working aggressively to further diversify our student body,” Hoffman said. “I am quite confident that this is going to help us to identify a number of promising students that other colleges and universities are missing.”

A report released last year by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling found that first-generation students, students from low-income families and minority students are less likely to submit test scores. 

The change doesn’t just help diversity — Regent Michael Hsu said it also makes financial sense. Hsu is a proponent of expanding the test-optional model to all University campuses. He said more applications is a good thing, and especially good for campuses like Crookston that have had trouble filling their freshman class.

“Once you don’t admit enough freshmen, you pay for that for four years,” Hsu said. “In order to solve some of these financial problems at smaller campuses, we’ve got to get more students there.”