N.C. Central University and two other UNC system schools will be allowed to admit students with an SAT score below the minimum standard of 800, if those students have a higher-than-required grade point average from high school.
The UNC Board of Governors on Friday adopted a three-year pilot program that would use a sliding scale of minimum admissions standards. It would apply to NCCU, Elizabeth City State and Fayetteville State universities starting next year.
Some of the state’s historically black universities have suffered enrollment declines in the past few years, as the UNC system raised its minimum admissions requirements to a 2.5 grade point average, an 800 on the SAT or a 17 on the ACT.
Under the sliding scale, a student with a 790 SAT or 16 ACT score, for example, could be accepted if he or she had at least a 2.6 GPA. The lowest allowable SAT score would be 750, but that would require a 3.0 or above GPA, according to the scale.
There was robust debate in the UNC boardroom Friday, with four members ultimately voting against the measure. Some suggested the move was only designed to fill seats in an era of falling enrollment. Some worried that a lower SAT threshold for some students would lead to the need for remedial help.
Board member Steve Long said SAT scores are a valuable part of analyzing applicants.
“I think minimum admissions standards are good for students and good for schools,” Long said. “Necessarily, that requires a cutoff.”
Downplaying or removing the SAT from the equation, he said, would be like taking the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.
Craig Souza, another board member, responded: “We want to replace that blank wall with a diploma. That’s the goal here.”
Supporters of the experiment say a growing body of research shows that the high school GPA – not a standardized test – is the best way to forecast college success. The SAT is a snapshot of performance on one day, they argue, versus a student’s four-year academic record.
‘Test optional’ schools
More than 800 colleges and universities nationally do not use the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions for most students, according to a national group called FairTest. Wake Forest University made the decision to be “test optional” in 2008.
Advocates of UNC’s sliding scale said the move may be necessary to enroll more students from North Carolina’s poor and rural counties.
NCCU Debra Saunders-White said that when she arrived on campus last year, she began looking at admissions data and realized that the university rejected 292 students with a 3.0 GPA or better because they barely missed the SAT score threshold of 800.
“I just thought that was egregious,” Saunders-White said. “I thought it was inconsistent with North Carolina Central’s mission of being a gateway to opportunity.”
The pilot program will begin next year and will be limited to 100 students at each of the three campuses. The UNC system will gather data and analyze the results annually.
Some suggested the UNC system should consider moving away from admissions tests altogether.
“The best predictor is hard work and grades in high school,” said board member Thomas Harrelson. “I’m not sure we should use the SAT at all.”