As a new generation starts to enroll on our campuses – a generation that includes more low- and middle-income students, first-generation students, and underrepresented minorities – public universities must adapt to provide a high-quality education to the evolving public they serve. Indiana University Bloomington has taken a major step to increase access and equity among this new generation: test-optional admissions.
Just one day after we celebrated our 200th birthday, IU Bloomington voted to join more than 1,050 public and private colleges and universities that allow students to choose whether their ACT and/or SAT test scores will be considered as part of their admission review.
While standardized tests like the SAT and ACT can, in combination with high school grades, be excellent predictors of academic success for many students, helping them to stand out in a sea of applications, those tests are not reflective of some students’ academic promise. Test-optional admissions allows students to decide how best to tell their academic story, by choosing whether to have their test scores included in the admissions review. This policy provides a new opportunity for students who have excelled, both personally and academically, to stand out in their own way, regardless of their performance on a standardized test, and helps address the systemic barriers that impact some of our most marginalized students.
Test-optional admissions at IU not only benefits a broad array of students, but it also, in turn, will benefit the university as a whole. By removing a potential barrier, IU will gain a strengthened academic discourse by ensuring student representation from Indiana, the nation and the globe. We are proud, as the flagship campus of a public university, to send the message that we seek to offer a world-class education for all students who demonstrate potential for success in college, and this new policy only strengthens that message.
In our admissions work at Indiana University, we have long practiced a holistic and selective review process that takes many factors into account. This practice will continue in the era of test-optional admissions – as will our commitment to academic rigor and integrity.
The academic preparation of all students – those who apply test-optional or those who want their test scores evaluated – will be individually reviewed and considered. Our schools, colleges and departments will continue to offer multiple paths to their programs, including direct admission and/or the petition and appeals process, whether students have chosen to have test scores considered or not.
We will also be working to ensure that scholarships are available for very qualified students who apply with or without test scores. As we establish the processes for direct admission and scholarship awarding under a test-optional admissions policy, we aim to create equitable opportunities for these pathways for all students. Students with demonstrated financial need will be considered for scholarships regardless of their decision about test scores in their application.
To be clear, this is not a turn away from standardized testing and the use of test scores in the admissions process. It is an opportunity to broaden our review of potential students and to provide a path to IU for a wider group of students with a record of strong academic preparation. Quite simply, it is an opportunity to change more students’ lives.
With the changing generation, demographics and socioeconomics, and with this change to test-optional admissions for our future students, IU will be well-positioned to attract, enroll and serve the best students as we enter our third century.
David B. Johnson is vice provost for enrollment management at Indiana University. This column originally ran in Inside Higher Ed on Feb. 18, 2020.