In her recent column, DuPont Manual High School student Allison Tu provides valuable insight into the challenges many Kentucky students face as they prepare to apply for college. She clearly relays the cultural biases frequently reflected in students’ ACT scores.
It is no surprise that students who can afford to take ACT prep courses or hire tutors will score better. And that gives wealthier applicants an unfair advantage over equally motivated, equally capable, equally curious students who simply don’t test well.
As Tu concludes: “… for too many students, the ACT has become a barrier to college. For these students, the test is more a reflection of access to resources rather than ability or potential to succeed in college.”
We at Transylvania University couldn’t agree more.
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In 2016, we took a major step toward eliminating this obstacle for our applicants. After conducting extensive research, Transylvania implemented a test-optional admissions policy. Applicants decide for themselves whether or not their test results accurately reflect their academic ability and potential.
They can instead submit an essay and, in most cases, come to campus for a personal interview. The admissions staff will then carefully review evidence of the individual applicant’s performance and drive in the classroom and involvement with high school and community activities.
Our experience shows that the rigor of the student’s coursework and overall academic achievement best illustrate the commitment, motivation and willingness to take on challenges. And that, in turn, is a much better predictor of whether that student will fit into the challenging academic community.
This change in admissions policy has expanded our applicant pool and increased the diversity of our applicants, bringing more students with varying backgrounds and experiences to our campus.
This change has also made Transylvania’s quality education accessible to more students. In the three years since we implemented this policy, the number of applicants has grown by nearly 70 percent. In fall 2017, 16 percent of applicants chose not to submit test scores; 21 percent of the first-year students who enrolled had made that same decision. Clearly, choosing not to submit test scores did not adversely affect students’ acceptance rates.
In fact, those students’ determination to demonstrate their readiness for college-level academic pursuits reveals the very grit and maturity that Tu cites as qualities that may better indicate a student’s preparedness for college.
Transylvania strives to expand access to a college education in other ways, too. Ninety-eight percent of our students receive financial support. Those students who do take on loans to attend are more successful in paying off that debt, perhaps because they are more successful in finding good-paying jobs post-graduation.
While the overall college-loan default rate for Kentuckians is 15.5 percent, the rate for Transylvania graduates is 2.5 percent. And, thanks to the Pioneer Pledge, more than 90 percent of Transylvania graduates complete their degrees in four years or less, which can result in substantial tuition savings. For these reasons, families may find a Transylvania education is surprisingly affordable.
Transylvania is committed to providing Kentucky students of all backgrounds an education that will prepare them for the ever-changing challenges of our modern economy. We are committed to preparing them to be leaders in their communities. And we know that Kentucky will thrive if barriers to higher education are removed and more students have the opportunity to earn a college degree.
Seamus Carey is president of Transylvania University.
At issue: Commentary by Allison Tu, “College readiness is more than an ACT score”