Schools See Spike in Diverse Enrollment with Test-Optional Admissions

As more and more colleges and universities — currently about 850 — drop test scores from their admissions requirements, many schools are witnessing an upsurge in the diversity of incoming classes.

Many college officials claim test-optional policies help attract strong applicants who may not have previously applied, including students of color and those from low-income households. Data show that these students — who may not be able to afford costly prep courses, books, and tutors like their peers — tend to perform worse on tests like the SAT. It is also shown that blacks and Hispanics consistently score lower on the SAT than whites.

Some schools that implemented test-optional policies early on are seeing noticeable differences in the makeup of their classes.

Prior to dropping test scores from its admissions requirements in 2009, Wake Forest University, a private school in Winston-Salem, N.C., had a student body that was 18 percent non-white. The following year, that number jumped to 23 percent and now stands at 30 percent.

Also, according to data from the school, the number of students eligible for federal Pell Grants shot up from 7.5 percent in 2008 to 11 percent last year.

At Loyola University in Maryland, the number of minority students has increased 13 percent since the school dropped its test score requirement in 2010.

Many universities are beginning to look at other factors in admissions to help determine a student’s ability. Research has found that SAT scores aren’t as helpful as high school GPA and curriculum in determining whether a student will be successful in college.

“The single best predictor of a student’s likelihood to succeed is their GPA,” Marc Camille, the VP for enrollment management and communications at Loyola University Maryland, told CNN. He helped conduct research specific to the school — which matched nationwide findings.

However, not all colleges are seeing the same results. Fairfield University in Connecticut reported only a slight increase in the diversity of its student body after instituting a test-optional policy; currently, 17 percent of its students are non-white.

“Our racial and ethnic diversity has changed slightly, but there’s probably a lot of factors involved in that,” Karen Pellegrino, the dean of enrollment at Fairfield, told CNN.

To help increase diversity, Fairfield has been recruiting at low-income high schools and offering scholarships to offset the cost of tuition. And the school claims this is leading to more diverse applicants.

Test-optional policies are more popular among small liberal arts colleges that say they already look beyond numbers when considering the likelihood of a student’s success.

Critics claim this approach to admissions is a ploy to make colleges appear more selective by attracting more applicants and elevating a school’s average SAT score.