Skip to main content

Do test-optional policies increase diversity?

If you want a definitive answer, you can stop now.  As Mark Twain allegedly said, "I was gratified to be able to give an answer right away.  I said I didn't know."

However, critics of test optional like to trot out this study from 2014, suggesting test-optional policies do not increase diversity. There are a couple of problems with using that paper to prop up this argument, however: First, the study included about 200 liberal arts colleges, and nowhere does it suggest that the conclusions can be generalized, or even that the results are reflective of reality every where else.  Second, the study explicitly states that the SAT sorts students by social class, not just academic ability.  You can't cite the outcomes without including lines like, "Despite the clear relationship between privilege and standardized test performance..." but somehow test lovers overlook that.  Finally, admissions, opportunity, culture, and policy are complex.  The belief that waving a wand will somehow address centuries of differing opportunities might be, um, naïve.  At best. 

There are some problems with leaping to conclusions about the data here, too.  You'll notice that between 2019 (the last normal year before COVID) and 2021 (the first year things returned to something closer to normal), that most selective (more about that) institutions did, in fact, become more diverse.  You'll also notice, perhaps, the big drop in African American enrollment at the University of Florida, one loud resistor of test optional during the pandemic.  It would be a mistake to draw facile conclusions based on what you see here.

Beyond that, there are two other reasons to temper your test optional enthusiasm about the results here.  First, the population of high school graduates is getting more diverse.  Some of this could be a natural remnant of that demographic reality.  Perhaps more important, however, is that IPEDS data only includes enrolling students, not admitted students.  Admissions offers the opportunity to enroll, but enrollment is driven by the student after factoring in many other factors.  So we don't know what the admit pools look like.  That would be critical, of course.

The final view allows you to look at all institutions, but for the others, I've used selectivity as a factor in the display.  This is because most institutions admit a very large percentage of applicants; the shape of their class is often largely driven by who applies, and we know COVID ramifications still affected student behavior and preparation.  It's only at those colleges and universities that are selective, and that can shape their class, that test optional policies really have a dramatic affect.

So, the viz:  Only the last view is interactive.

The first view (using the tabs across the top) shows the Ivy League, plus MIT and Stanford, and the total first-year enrollment by ethnicity.

The next two show those same institutions, broken out by college, year, and ethnicity: First, African American and then Hispanic.  The data show numbers and percentage of the first-year, degree-seeking students.

Next are selective (admit rates of less than 50%) public land grant and flagship institutions, using a similar format.

And finally, the final view is more interactive but less granular.  Find your region, control, Carnegie rollup, selectivity, and specific ethnicity, and the display updates for you.

We won't know about this until some deeper analysis happens, but for now, I think the signs are good.  Time will tell.

As always, if you find something you think is interesting, comment or drop me a line.


Popular posts from this blog

The Highly Rejective Colleges

If you're not following Akil Bello on Twitter, you should be.  His timeline is filled with great insights about standardized testing, and he takes great effort to point out racism (both subtle and not-so-subtle) in higher education, all while throwing in references to the Knicks and his daughter Enid, making the experience interesting, compelling, and sometimes, fun. Recently, he created the term " highly rejective colleges " as a more apt description for what are otherwise called "highly selective colleges."  As I've said before, a college that admits 15% of applicants really has a rejections office, not an admissions office.  The term appears to have taken off on Twitter, and I hope it will stick. So I took a look at the highly rejectives (really, that's all I'm going to call them from now on) and found some interesting patterns in the data. Take a look:  The 1,132 four-year, private colleges and universities with admissions data in IPEDS are incl

Freshman Migration, 1986 to 2020

(Note: I discovered that in IPEDS, Penn State Main Campus now reports with "The Pennsylvania State University" as one system.  So when you'd look at things over time, Penn State would have data until 2018, and then The Penn....etc would show up in 2020.  I found out Penn State main campus still reports its own data on the website, so I went there, and edited the IPEDS data by hand.  So if you noticed that error, it should be corrected now, but I'm not sure what I'll do in years going forward.) Freshman migration to and from the states is always a favorite visualization of mine, both because I find it a compelling and interesting topic, and because I had a few breakthroughs with calculated variables the first time I tried to do it. If you're a loyal reader, you know what this shows: The number of freshman and their movement between the states.  And if you're a loyal viewer and you use this for your work in your business, please consider supporting the costs

Yes, your yield rate is still falling, v 2020

I started doing this post on a regular basis several years ago, in response (if I recall) to a colleague talking about their Board of Trustees Chair insisting that "all we need to do" to bring enrollment back to its former level is to get the yield rate up.   That's the equivalent of saying all you need to do is straighten your drives and cut ten putts from each round, and you'll be a great golfer.  Moreover, it's based on the assumption that a falling yield rate is based on something you're doing or not doing.  The challenge is much larger, and a lot harder to address.  It's not a switch you flip. So we've got this: A look at applications, admits, and enrolls over the last twenty years, and three key ratios that are based on those numbers: Admit rate, or the percentage of applicants offered admission; yield rate, or the percentage of those offered admission who enroll; and the lesser-known draw rate, which is calculated by dividing the yield rate by t