In a year-long pilot program, the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore will not use standardized test scores as part of its admissions process. The university joins a growing number of institutions that are uncoupling admissions decisions from students’ scores on the SAT and ACT examinations.
The pilot program, which received preliminary approval from a University System of Maryland Board of Regents committee, comes as the university struggles to enroll students and as some of its competitors — other historically black colleges and universities — have stopped using the standardized tests as a deciding factor in admissions.
“UMES has had some enrollment challenges,” Joann Boughman, the system’s senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, told the Education Policy and Student Life Committee. “One of the goals here was to examine any ways the barriers might be lowered to students who might not otherwise have come to our institutions.”
The university system allows its member institutions to have their own admissions criteria, but it also mandates that they meet basic requirements. One of those requirements is the consideration of national standardized testing, such as the SAT and the ACT.
Under the UMES pilot program, students applying for admission next year would have to submit their standardized test scores, but the scores would not be considered as part of the admissions decision.
UMES enrolled 2,886 students this fall, according to preliminary system data.
The change would apply only to students who have at least a 3.4 grade point average in high school. Competitor institutions, including Alcorn State University, Hampton University, Prairie View A&M University and Virginia State University, have similar GPA cutoffs and have seen their enrollments rise under the new admissions criteria.
The change comes as more higher education administrators see a stronger correlation between success in high school and success in college.
“In looking at their data, in fact there are students … who have a great deal of grit, in fact are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished in high school (yet) are poor test takers,” Boughman said. “Those are the students we are trying to remove this barrier for.”
Some studies have shown a correlation between higher standardized test scores and stronger economic backgrounds, likely due in part to families’ ability to pay for expensive test preparation classes and tutoring.
Salisbury University was the first University System of Maryland institution to receive a waiver not to consider standardized tests in some admissions cases. UMES would be the second — the change still must be approved by the full Board of Regents — and more schools could come on board, Boughman said.
“I think we are seeing the turn of a corner here, so that in the future there may be additional institutions and … I think at that time we would be coming back to the Regents to in fact discuss the possibility of changing the overarching admissions criteria,” she told the committee.
The changes come as schools nationwide move away from the consideration of standardized test scores. Other schools that have made the switch include George Washington University, Temple University and Wake Forest University.
“I think test-optional is fine,” said Robert Caret, the system’s chancellor. “Schools need to be working with the cohorts they have and the schools that they come from to figure out what best works for those institutions.”