Welcome to another academic year! I’m coming back with renewed energy and hope that the lessons we’ve learned over the past year and a half will help us move forward and serve students with flexibility and resilience.
Back to school season sparks a lot of questions about the beginning of a student’s college journey, especially when it comes to equity. The number of colleges and universities (and states) going test-optional for admissions or reconsidering the role of these tests in admissions continues to grow, which is fueling debate about whether that move will really make education after high school more accessible for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. This debate prompted a recent conversation with our co-chair Melinda French Gates, who asked two important questions: “What does this mean for our mission and our work? To the extent we don’t know, what can we find out and share?”
Our growing focus on promoting equitable value in postsecondary education demands that we better understand what the move to test-blind or test-optional admissions means for lowering barriers to opportunity. So we are making investments to build knowledge about the impact of test-optional and related admissions policies on colleges and universities and the students they seek to serve and share that knowledge with institutions as they consider their own admissions policies and practices. Keep reading for more on this work.
We remain firmly committed to the work of transforming colleges and universities to eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success. This includes taking a hard look at the full length of a student’s journey to a certificate or degree – and sharing what we learn.
Changes in college and university admissions policies and practices are moving rapidly, which could have a major impact on efforts to better serve students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. Where are these changes happening, and more importantly, what do they mean for increasing access, success, and value for students?
The foundation is launching new investments designed to help answer those questions. In the near term, the partners leading these investments will produce insights about the most recent admissions cycle, specifically, which institutions took action, and what was the impact on the students they serve. Over the longer term, the partners will track changes over multiple admissions cycles and intermediate outcomes for students (e.g. their impact on student persistence and/or retention), as well as conduct case studies of select institutions and produce a guidebook that proposes equitable approaches to considering standardized tests in admissions.
We look forward to sharing more details about these investments in the coming weeks!
A recent survey of more than 400 colleges and universities that have adopted test-optional admissions policies shows that applications and enrollments for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds have at least somewhat improved at many institutions, particularly in the public sector. At the same time, leaders at many institutions, especially public colleges and universities, express concern about being able to fully evaluate students’ likelihood of success without the test data.
A paper released earlier this year on the impact of test-optional admissions policies at nearly 100 private colleges reports single-digit percentage gains in the enrollment of women and students from low-income backgrounds and double-digit percentage gains in enrollment of students of color. The report’s author cautions that the institutions examined generally had significant time to prepare for the policy change, which may not be the case for colleges and universities now making or considering the change.