The UNC Board of Governors is considering a new policy for testing requirements at North Carolina’s public universities.

During the pandemic, the Board of Governors voted to waive SAT and ACT scores — a decision theyhave extended twice.

The waiver will last until this fall, unless the board votes to extend it again. That is not expected to happen.

Instead, the Board’s Educational Planning, Policies and Programs committee is considering a policy that will make submitting test scores optional for some students.

The proposed UNC system-wide policy would be dependent on two factors, the first being a student’s grade point average (GPA).

Students who have GPAs below 2.8 would have to submit a test score. And starting fall 2026, that score must be 17 or higher for the ACT, or 930 or higher on the SAT. Students must also have a minimum GPA of 2.5.

These would be minimum requirements, as admission standards vary at constituent universities in the UNC System.

The other factor the policy depends on is a bit more flexible. It relies on individual university chancellors, the UNC Board of Governors and the UNC System President Peter Hans.

Students with a GPA higher than 2.8 might not have to submit any test scores, if the admitting university’s chancellor sets that policy.

However, any chancellor who wants to require all students to submit their SAT or ACT score must get clearance from both the board of governors and Hans first.

According to the policy, the Board of Governors must grant any testing requirement request before Dec. 1 of this year.

The UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs discussed the proposed policy during its Feb. 28 meeting.

A bar chart showing outcomes for first-year students by ACT score, separated into three categories: first-year GPA, satisfactory academic progress and fall-to-fall retention.
The UNC System waived test score requirements for all of its universities during the pandemic. That waiver will last until next semester

Committee members had differing opinions on whether students should be required to submit their SAT or ACT scores.

Two members, Art Pope and Woody White, said they felt like students should be required to submit their scores.

“Standardized test scores is information, is data,” Pope said. “(Universities) should want that information for their own purposes. To evaluate their admissions office, their admissions policies, on what students are getting admitted and not admitted — with standardized objective information from the test.”

White asked why the testing waiver was approved in the first place, and asked if it was to “lower standards to allow more access to college” during the pandemic.

“What’s the corollary between a virus and doing away with a standardized test in college admissions?” White asked.

Andrew Kelly, the system’s executive vice president for strategy and policy, responded that the testing waiver was put in place because of the physical impossibility to take the SAT or ACT during the pandemic.

“It is a point of information, it’s a data point,” White said. “Why wouldn’t you want this? If you’re an admissions director and you’re a chancellor, what’s the downside?”

Gene Davis, another board committee member, said requiring the test would put the UNC System at a “competitive disadvantage.” He noted several competitor institutions that have passed temporary test-optional policies in recent years, including Clemson, The University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech.

“We look at things from an academic perspective, but also from a business perspective,” Davis said. “We have to look at what other institutions that our North Carolina high school students are applying to. We have to recognize that we will be putting ourselves, our constituent institutions at a competitive disadvantage.”

If the board committee does not vote on the policy this year, all public universities will revert to pre-pandemic testing requirements.

This means the incoming fall 2025 class will be required, at a minimum, to have either a GPA of 2.5; or a minimum score of 19 on the ACT or 1010 on the SAT.

Even if the minimum GPA requirement is met, all students will be required to submit their test scores.

A detailed timeline of what happens for incoming fall 2025 students if the UNC Board of Governors acts or doesn't act on the proposed test requirement policy.
Timeline of the UNC System’s test requirement policy.

The UNC System joins universities across the country that are revisiting their pandemic SAT and ACT test waivers.

Recently, Dartmouth, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have decided to bring test requirements back.

Other systems have opted to go in the other direction. The University of Michigan decided to ditch its testing requirements. Same goes for the University System of Georgia, where all but three of its universities are test optional.

In 2022, the University System of Maryland also removed its requirement, and left the decision up to its individual universities.

BOG committee member Davis said he feels like the system needs to be a place where students in North Carolina, regardless of their background, can achieve higher education.

“We need to be a place where we welcome them, we bring them up to an even playing field so that then they are able to do this collegiate work,” Davis said. “The UNC System has never shrunk from grand challenges, and we should not shrink from this one.”

Pope agreed, but reemphasized why he feels like standardized testing requirements are important.

“I think there should be a seat for every high school graduate, every young person in North Carolina within the UNC System,” Pope said. “But this information from a standardized test will help determine which campus is best suited for that student’s ability, needs and goals.”

The UNC board committee was originally supposed to vote on its new policy today. Shortly before the meeting, however, they opted to discuss the proposal instead.

The proposed policy has already had some criticism, both for and against test-optional admissions.

Before the policy is final, both the committee and the full board of governors must vote to approve it. The committee is set to consider the proposed testing policy at its next meeting in April.

Even if the board doesn’t pass a new testing policy and reverts to the pre-pandemic standards, the standing policy would expire before 2026. This means the board committee has to address its testing policy before then.

However, there might be some revisions to the proposed policy before it is represented in April, according to committee chair Kirk Bradley.

“I think we’ll come up with a policy, we’ll bring it forward in April, that hopefully we’ll all be satisfied with.”

The next meeting for the Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs is scheduled for April 17.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC's higher education reporter and 2023 Fletcher Fellow, working in partnership with Open Campus.