January 9, 2019 | Academic Affairs

By Bill CrainCity College Amsterdam Gate in 1921
Since 2000, The City College and other senior colleges have required applicants to meet higher SAT cutoff scores to gain freshman admission. Several faculty members are concerned that standardized tests unfairly block student access, particularly among students of color and low-income students.  I would like to tell you about pilot experiments at City College that have begun to address this concern.

Since 2012, City College’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Faculty Council has asked the Office of Admissions to carry out experiments with applicants who fall below the SAT cutoff scores but have strong high school grades.  The Office of Admissions has admitted them and monitored their academic progress.  These experiments have become known as the Students of Promise project.

The Office of Admissions recently reported results for the largest cohort of Students of Promise: 162 first-time freshmen who entered in the Fall, 2016.  At the end of the Spring, 2018 semester, two thirds of the students were still enrolled (having completed four semesters) and had an average GPA of 3.0.  A similar Office of Admissions project with 98 applicants from targeted local high schools produced nearly identical results. These GPA and retention rates are roughly similar to those of regularly admitted applicants.

These results suggest, then, that admission policies can expand opportunity, without reducing student success, by becoming more flexible with respect to standardized test scores and giving higher priority to high school grades.

The City College Faculty Council, impressed by the Students of Promise results, on December 6, 2018, asked the Office of Admissions to expand the project.  The Office of Admissions has suffered staff cuts, so the Council asked it to expand the project “to the extent feasible.”

The Office of Admissions at CCNY hasn’t reported on the ethnic diversity of the students in these experiments, but University of California (UC) research indicates that admission policies that put greater weight on high school grades, compared to standardized test scores, increase ethnic diversity. The UC Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) reported in 2016 that in the 1.1 million California residents who applied to UC over the past two decades…family income, education, and race together account for over 35% of the variation in applicants’ SAT scores today, up from 25% in 1994. The report proposed revising the UC admission policy to use SAT in the eligibility factor, but then delegate authority to the faculty at each campus to establish local selection procedures to reflect “campus values and academic priorities” instead of using the SAT score.

Also, Catherine Gerwertz reported in the January issue of Education Week that the 2018 survey results from the National Association for College Admission Counseling showed a 5 percent shift in the perceived importance of SAT/ACT scores by Admissions Officers:  83.1 percent responded that SAT/ ACT scores are of “considerable or moderate importance”, down from 88.2 percent in 2016.  16.8 percent responded that SAT/ACT scores are of “little or no importance”, up from 11.8 percent in 2016.

Is your campus or program exploring these issues?  Please share your deliberations and findings with the CUNY community on the UFS blog.  Of related interest, the CUNY Enrollment Management Council will discuss best practices to facilitate improved diversity in CUNY enrollment.

Bill Crain is a Professor of Psychology at The City College of New York and a member of the University Faculty Senate.  Stasia Pasela contributed  to this post. 

The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view.  Please send questions and submissions to Stasia Pasela, Editor.

Image: The gate from Amsterdam Avenue.  1921, Collier’s New Encyclopedia, v. 6, between pp. 452 and 453, wikimedia.org.