Eva McGregor Dodds is past president of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling
I've admired the University of Michigan’s recent commitments to increasing access for all students to the college admission process. Yet the announcement many have hoped would come in the past months has not materialized. Why is Ann Arbor’s campus stalling regarding going test-optional for the Class of 2021?
The “leaders" and "the best” have remained silent about this equity issue as more than 20 colleges in Michigan have gone test-optional. Nationally, the University of California system and many other highly selective schools went test-optional for the fall, including the University of Virginia. Requiring an ACT/SAT score for the fall 2020 application cycle creates an admission barrier that most negatively impacts urban and rural students. A simple policy change must happen to release the mounting pressure on students and their school counselors. Each day, the unsaid message to rising seniors gets louder, “If you can’t take a standardized test, the University of Michigan does not want you.”
School counselors are measuring classrooms and attempting to create socially distant testing opportunities, resulting in elevated stress and fewer seats. An in-person summer testing is scheduled for the ACT, yet it's cancelled where many U of M applicants would test. There is not a single testing site open in Detroit this month.
SAT is allowing those registered for cancelled tests to have priority registration for the late August exam, leaving students planning for initial August testing without a slot. Other students are depending on a state-sponsored SAT to happen in late September or mid-October. High school testing sites are scrambling to host school day testing, but coming up short attempting to find a free day in the curriculum.
On June 2, the College Board asked colleges to realize that “the densely populated areas hardest hit by COVID-19 … will face the greatest challenge in finding open seats because of scarce test centers.” It continued to state that if students had access to testing they may have only taken it once, or may not be able to submit testing before admission deadlines.
Can pre-COVID test scores be equated to results from tests taken wearing masks while practicing CDC guidelines? They certainly cannot be compared to unvalidated, online ACT testing rolling out this fall. How can the University reconcile requiring scores that cannot be evaluated or accessed equitably? Current U-M policy favors students who have already tested or have access to testing leaving those most impacted by COVID-19 without an application option. It also contributes to the confusion created by ever changing updates from ACT and the College Board.
Jayne Calfin Fonash, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) asked its members (the University of Michigan is a member of both NACAC and the Michigan Association for Admission Counseling) to "reassess their admission criteria in the light of overwhelming challenges faced by many students." She asked higher education members to consider if their COVID-19 impacted admission process will be reliable and most importantly will it "preserve access for all students, including low-income, first-generation and other vulnerable students." Currently, the University of Michigan would have to answer "No."
It is the responsibility of higher education leaders to uphold COVID-19 admission policies that maintain equitable access for all students. Regents, please use the national reputation of excellence afforded to the University to be a proactive advocate for equity and access to admission options for the Class of 2021. End the silence by sharing how the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor will facilitate equal access to the admission process for all students. Your future, the Class of 2021, is waiting for clear messaging. We all are.