In October, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors authorized three UNC institutions to participate in a three-year pilot program to implement a sliding scale for minimum admissions requirements. Those institutions are Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University and N.C. Central University.
Current systemwide minimum standards are an SAT score of 800 or an ACT score of 17 and a high school grade point average of 2.5 or higher. For these three pilot institutions, a GPA higher than 2.5 could be accompanied by a score slightly lower than 800 on the SAT.
The board’s deliberations occurred against the backdrop of the broader conversation about the validity of the SAT as an indicator of student success in college. Quite simply, many of us believe that a N.C. student who has earned a GPA of 3.5 over four years should not be denied admission to a UNC school because of a SAT score of 790. That student’s prospects for success are better than a student with a 2.5 GPA and an 800 SAT. The pilot program will use the best research, best models and best practices available. It will be an evidence-based program requiring strong evaluation and the use of appropriate metrics.
Since that vote was taken, many have opined about its potential impact. To their credit, the members of the Board of Governors chose to educate themselves about this critical issue and engaged in an informed and candid discussion. As a result, they voted by a significant margin to support the pilot.
As noted during the discussion, there are more than 800 other colleges and universities that have either developed a sliding scale or that no longer use the SAT at all. Many of those are elite private institutions like Wake Forest University and large research universities like the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M (College Station) and Arizona State University.
I have served on the Advisory Board for Education Testing Service and have consulted with the College Board. Both the College Board and ETS, which create these standardized tests, admit that the SAT alone is a poor predictor of a student’s success in college. I find it surprising that individuals continue to speak to the predictive validity of the SAT when the College Board and ETS have identified problems with the content validity of the questions that address abstract thinking. By their own admission, some of the questions address an area of abstract thinking (or vocabulary) that does not predict success in college and has little relevancy to the real-world experiences of high school students.
The UNC system and its constituent institutions have a responsibility to offer the residents of North Carolina the opportunity to benefit from varied higher education opportunities. As we do this we must take into account changes in the student profile (fewer traditional-age students and more nontraditional, older and racially diverse students), the demands of the workplace, the economic and income status of prospective students, budget constraints and increased competition from colleges/universities both in-state and out-of-state.
The enrollment management models of just five years ago are no longer adequate to account for the myriad factors that must now be examined as we look for the “best fits” between prospective students and UNC campuses. Throughout the country, innovative models are emerging that, in different and unique ways, use predictive analytics and multiple variables that reveal more to us about a student’s chances for succeeding in college.
The UNC MARS initiative will offer students, who before would have just missed being admitted to a UNC school, an opportunity, in rigorous and challenging settings, to demonstrate their college readiness. When they do, the state of North Carolina benefits because it has increased its educated workforce and citizenry.
Dr. James A. Anderson is chancellor of Fayetteville State University.