03: In the Sticks
The anti-testing movement exploded during the pandemic, from 1,070 test-optional schools before 2020 to 1,815 not requiring the ACT or SAT for the fall 2022 class. Harvard recently made headlines
for announcing it wouldn’t require the SAT or ACT through 2026.
More importantly, more accessible institutions are rethinking tests too. The City University of New York system, which includes more than a quarter million students, is test-blind until at least 2023. The University of California has already banned the tests permanently, while the California State system is expected to soon follow suit.
Going test-optional or test-blind has undeniably gained steam
, as decades of research suggests such tests favor affluent white and Asian students. But if that shift leads to significant student declines at smaller colleges, many rural communities could take a hit.
Across Georgia, 21 of 26 state public schools saw losses, although overall enrollment was down just 851 students (or 0.2%). The biggest dips were at state colleges like East Georgia, where enrollments dropped almost 7%. Meanwhile, large research universities grew by 2.6%, with highly selective Georgia Tech up more than 10%.
What Georgia witnessed in its pandemic year of waiving tests was not so much an enrollment drop as an enrollment transfer — with large Atlanta area universities surging as smaller, regional colleges withered.
For most schools, fewer students means fewer dollars (whether in tuition or in state funding), at a time when many rural colleges were already reeling during the pandemic. Still, those students may benefit from the new opportunities. And is that enrollment transfer even because of waived tests, as Moore suggested?
We don’t know … yet. There are places like Florida, which didn’t waive its test requirements but still saw a 5.5% drop
at its community colleges. As Leslie Daugherty of the nonprofit Education Design Lab notes, the theory of a test-related dip assumes the majority of lost students are traditional 18-year-old students.
That may be a faulty assumption. California’s community colleges saw a 15% drop
to fall below 2 million students for the first time in three decades in 2021 — but nearly one-third of the enrollment decline came from students 40 and older, the community college system’s vice chancellor told California legislators
Compared with past recessions, the biggest difference for those nontraditional students was that the pandemic forced kids home from school.
“The working adult, the single mom, the ‘new majority learners,’ as we call them: They faced a choice, but for them, it wasn’t really a choice — your kids are home now, so their education comes first,” Daugherty says.
In general, data suggests that colleges that went test optional got more diverse and more prepared candidates, says Bob Schaeffer, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing: “There are a lot of factors. Attributing one year of change to any variable is a little dicey.”
Still, it’s worth watching the continued move toward going test-free for its effect on rural enrollment. And we might not have to wait long to start getting answers.
Georgia has already announced
it will return to including SATs and ACTs in admissions beginning with the fall 2022 class — a trend some states will likely follow, even as others move away from testing for good.