To submit or not submit a test score is a question on the minds of many applicants.

?It’s Thanksgiving week in the United States, so this will be a shorter than normal edition of NEXT. Enjoy the holiday.


? The final NEXT Office Hour of 2021 will be Wednesday, December 15 at 2 p.m. ET.

  • We’ll explore how the expectations of students have shifted during the pandemic and ways colleges can create valuable experiences to enable students to discover their sense of purpose.
  • Joining me for the hour will be two separate panels: First up will be Lori Carrell, chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester, and Adam Weinberg, president of Denison University. My second interview will be with Ethan Braden, vice president of marketing and communication at Purdue University and Cheryl Hyman, vice provost for academic alliances at Arizona State University.
  • Register here.

? If you missed last week’s NEXT Office Hour on how to build new models of higher ed you can watch it here for free.

Test Optional, Year Three

20 months after pandemic lockdowns disrupted ACT/SAT tests for the high school graduating Class of 2021, colleges and universities that made test optional a “temporary policy” are weighing whether to extend it yet again for a third year of applicants.

What’s happening: High school juniors typically start taking the ACT/SAT in large numbers in the spring. Before this year’s junior class dives into test prep or signs up for a test date, many want to know if the colleges they’re considering will continue to be test optional for applicants next year.

  • The first year of Covid-induced test optional (Class of 2021) was caused by widespread cancellations of the tests at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Then last year around this time it still wasn’t clear what the spring would look like for testing, especially since high schools in many states were mostly remote. So, colleges extended their policies for a second year.
  • But now with vaccines and high school schedules looking a lot more normal, the calculation to stay test optional is much different one for colleges.  

— Stanford was early out of the gate, announcing on November 9, it would be test-optional for applicants in the fall of 2023.

  • Stanford’s announcement likely sent many of its competitors back to the huddle with their senior leadership teams about whether to extend their own policies because there’s been silence on this front ever since.
  • It might take another 2-4 months for schools to announce their plans for the entering class in 2023, predicts Adam Ingersoll, a co-founder and principal of Compass Education Group, an academic-advising and test-prep firm.

Driving the news: Last week, the University of California system—which called for eliminating the ACT/SAT as an admissions requirement as far back as 2001—finally closed the book on testing.

  • The nine-campus UC system with 226,000 undergraduates has been debating the use of the tests since well before the pandemic.
  • In May 2020, the system’s Board of Regents agreed to a five-year plan to ease out the ACT/SAT and develop an alternative.
  • But six months later, the courts in a lawsuit filed by students ordered UC to suspend the tests altogether.
  • And then last week, the system finally said there isn’t an alternative exam that wouldn’t create biased results.

Why it matters: When colleges nationwide recruit students, they most often strike gold in California. Seven states have more than doubled the number of students who cross their borders since 2008. No one had more students leave than the Golden State.

  • In 2018, “California exported about 40,000 students to other states. About 90% of them (roughly 36,000) went to the types of colleges that might require the SAT or ACT (four-year public and private not-for-profits),” Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost of enrollment at Oregon State, recently wrote on his blog, Higher Ed Data Stories.

— Those 36,000 California students each year spread out across the country to many different colleges, but plenty of them also travel in bunches to certain institutions.

  • There are nearly two dozen colleges where California is the #1 state for the freshman class, including Oberlin in Ohio and Swarthmore in Pennsylvania.
  • In the New England region alone, California is the #2 provider among all states to the freshman class at 11 colleges.

The big question: If California publics—where many of these students who travel elsewhere also are applying—don’t require the ACT/SAT how many will sit for a test required by only some colleges on their list?

By the numbers: Last year, 24% of applicants who submitted applications through the Common App sent scores to some, but not all, of the colleges they applied to. That’s up from just 4% the year before.

  • Students from every zip code submitted fewer scores last year as you can see from the chart below (right) compared to the previous year (left), but those from wealthier zip codes (the bubbles to the right) were more likely to submit scores than those from lower-income zip codes.

Context: Last week, while at gathering of college enrollment deans in Florida, I asked several about why they’re continuing to delay the inevitable announcement—either going back to testing or permanently going test-optional.

  • A lot of the reason for the delay comes down to data—and a lack of it.
  • Colleges want to know how students who enroll without test scores perform. Do they remain in school? Do they graduate at the same rate as those with test scores? Schools need more time to answer those questions.
  • Then there is the impact of test-optional on yield models. Determining who will actually enroll from those you accept depends partly on their test score. Without a score, colleges are missing a key metric in figuring out who will show up. Again, they need more time to tweak their yield models.

Bottom line: This waiting game is frustrating to the high school Class of 2023. But many colleges like the middle ground of test optional because it allows them to select student as they want and lean more into their priorities.

  • Most colleges refused to release details about who submitted and didn’t submit scores in this year’s freshman class.
  • Where numbers were released—as I and others reported previously—there seems to be an admissions edge to those who submitted scores. What’s unclear is whether that edge was because of their score or what was in the rest of the application.


Mergers, Acquisitions, and Higher Ed
Mergers, Acquisitions, and Higher Ed

Mergers and acquisitions are common in the corporate world but not so much in higher ed. With so much talk about colleges going out of business as we come out of the pandemic, Michael Horn and I explored the idea of mergers and acquisitions with Jeff Senese, the president of Saint Leo University, which recently acquired a college thousands of miles away and wants to build a national network of Catholic colleges. Listen to the latest episode of the Future U. podcast.

What Parents Think
What Parents

In a new survey from Niche of parents, they ranked graduation rate as the most important for assessing the quality of school, followed by job placement, acceptance rate, and retention.

Explaining Higher Ed's Value
Explaining Higher Ed’s

The president of Western Governors University, Scott Pulsipher, weighs in on how the institution measures and explains value to the public and what they have learned in doing so that might apply to the rest of higher ed.

Until next time, Cheers — Jeff

To get in touch, find me on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Jeff has written about higher education for more than two decades and is a New York Times bestselling author of three books. His latest, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, was published in September...