Unintended Consequences of the Test Optional Movement

We can all agree that Covid-19 has changed the college application landscape. Juniors worried about finishing their high school classes online, and those who tutored for the SAT, ACT and AP tests, anticipated a very tough end of semester. All of that changed when the College Board and ACT messed up the at-home testing options, and high schools realized that across the board, not all students were going to finish their year on equal footing. All of these factors played into the renewed interest to allow students to apply test optional this fall. Here are some of the true drivers of this movement:

1) For the past 20 years, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (Fairest) has advanced quality education and equal opportunity by promoting fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools. As of June 2020, more than half of all US universities have announced they will be test optional for the fall 2021 admission cycle.

2) However, the real reason why university administrators are eager to go test optional is not entirely based on equity or equality. What is really moving the needle now is the financial calamity that Covid-19 has brought upon universities. Universities are businesses that only thrive if they have tenants in their dorms, professors teaching, restaurants serving food, and staff running the university. Administrators need to make applications easy. The best way to do that is to open up applications to everyone. With the exception of the Ivy Leagues, small and large universities will need a large number of applicants to stay alive.

3) Universities have been losing money since the day they had to send their students home in March. This is reflected in a loss of room and board, cancellation of ticketed events, cancellation of summer events, temporary closure of performing arts buildings, museums and other public facilities, and of course loss of interest income that ordinarily supports working capital budget, and reductions to the value of endowments.

4) The huge expense this fall will flow to Covid-19 related testing and contact tracing, increased cleaning and disinfection of residences, classrooms, workspaces, new technology cost related to online instruction and course supports, and emergency financial aid for families that have experienced significant financial loss.

5) So, consider who will most likely benefit this fall? Not the student who needs a full ride, but students who can pay full tuition. College administrators will have to juggle the need to show diversity, equity etc., but when it comes down to it, students whose parents have the funds will win. On top of it, those international students who used to pay full price to attend an American university are no longer coming, due to travel restrictions and fewer student visas being issued.

In the name of equity, fairness, opportunity, or whatever buzz word is pushed in social media settings these days, consider that the unintended consequences of test optional will not benefit those who need it most, but students who can plug the coffers of the university budgets.