Study Examines Effect of Universal Mandatory Testing

Universal mandatory college entrance exams could help bridge the gap between low-income students and selective universities, according to a recent study by a professor at the University of Connecticut.

Although some universities have begun to phase out the use of college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT, a vast majority of selective schools still use them to evaluate students' credentials. The exams—which involve an online registration and payment system, as well as limited testing dates and locations—pose few access issues for more middle- and upper-income students. However, the problem is exceptionally more challenging for students who may not have reliable internet access, rely on public transportation for travel, or simply do not have the funds for the exam.

Since 2001, eleven states have implemented free and mandatory college entrance exams for all high school juniors, often citing increasing college access as the motivation for the policy. The state-mandated exams are typically given during the school day, at no financial cost to the student, and at the student's high school.

Joshua Hyman, an assistant professor with the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy, published a study in the summer of 2017 analyzing the state of Michigan's 2007 policy shift to mandatory ACT exams for public high school juniors. The analysis revealed that for every 10 low-income students who score well on college entrance exams, there are an additional five low-income students who would score well, but do not take an exam. The inability to take the entrance exams is one of several factors that lead to many low-income students falling off of the path to college.

The study found that after the ACT was made mandatory, the percentage of students taking the exam skyrocketed. Prior to the change in testing, only 54 percent of all high school students and 35 percent of low-income students were taking the college entrance exams. However, once the test was required, both of those numbers rose to 99 percent.

According to Hyman's findings, universal mandatory testing policies are also inexpensive and one of the cheapest ways to increase the number of students attending college. Although universal mandatory college entrance exams are far from a cure-all for narrowing income gaps in college, the study suggests that the policy could provide an inexpensive method to increase access to schools for disadvantaged students who are ready for the next level of education.


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ACT for All: The Effect of Mandatory College Entrance Exams on Postsecondary Attainment and Choice