Students & Parents | College Admissions

Duquesne University goes test-optional for liberal arts applicants

PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW   |  October 17, 2014 by Debra Erdley

Duquesne University is joining a growing list of colleges dropping SAT/ACT test requirements, as the debate rages about the value of tests that have been a gold standard for college admissions for nine decades.

While some, including officials at Duquesne and hundreds of other colleges that have gone test-optional in recent years, have concluded the high-pressure admissions exams are not the best predictors of college success, others are skeptical.

Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington think tank, said the decision to abandon test requirements seems odd at a time when some of the nation’s largest employers — companies such as Goldman Sachs and Deloitte — ask new college graduates how they scored on college admission exams.

“It shows they have very little confidence in the validity of transcripts because of shameless grade inflation. They tend to think that the SATs are a pretty good indicator of general intelligence,” Poliakoff said, lamenting moves away from testing requirements.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 800 colleges and universities have gone test-optional in recent years.

Jack Buckley, senior vice president of research at The College Board, the company that publishes the SAT, said he respects the right of colleges to set their own standards, but added that decades of studies have shown that SAT scores in conjunction with high school grades are the best predictors of college success.

And while the ratio of the 1,800 traditional, four-year colleges that required entrance exams declined from 82 percent to 78 percent between 2003 and 2013, the College Board found that 92 percent of students continued to enroll in schools that required the exams during that period.

Even so, more than 30 Pennsylvania schools — including Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University in Western Pennsylvania — have gone test-optional in recent years.

Temple University in Philadelphia will make the jump in 2015, becoming the first large public research university in the Northeast to go test-optional.

Unlike Temple, which will make tests optional for all incoming students, Duquesne is forgoing admissions tests for students applying to the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts for fall 2015. Students applying to business, health sciences and education programs will still be required to submit test scores.

Duquesne officials said the test requirement is being maintained for admission to those programs because graduates ultimately must pass standardized tests as part of professional licensing requirements.

Robert Schaffer, of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing said most schools that go test-optional do so across the board.

“But we think schools need to develop admissions policies that are consistent with their missions and the kids they serve. In this case, Duquesne has developed another alternative that fits its mission,” Schaffer said.

Paul-James Cukanna, Duquesne’s associate provost for enrollment management, said applications to the college of liberal arts, where this year’s average freshman SAT score was 1132, remain strong. He said the decision to make admissions tests optional followed a yearlong study that reviewed extensive data and concluded testing requirements exclude a small subset of students who test poorly but otherwise excel in college.

“I have been in this profession a long time. … And I think we’ve reached a professional maturity where you begin to question and wonder if there is a population of students for whom tests don’t work. There are some students for whom standardized tests are not an indicator of ability,” Cukanna said.

Poliakoff conceded that may indeed be the case for some students, but he noted there may be another motivation for some schools. Going test-optional can increase the school’s average test score and help schools advance in competitive national rankings when only students with higher scores submit them, he said.


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