Person bubbles in SAT test form.
A student takes the SATs, which previously applied to Brenau University undergraduate applicants as a precondition for admissions. But now, instead of placing heavy emphasis on standardized test performance, the university will now rely on “more rigorous admission standards.”

Brenau Solidifies ‘More than the Score’ Test-Optional Admissions Policy

September 28, 2016

Brenau University starting immediately will make available to all prospective students its long-standing policy of not requiring SAT or ACT college admissions test scores as a precondition for admission to the 138-year-old Women’s College or any of its coeducational undergraduate programs.

The policy previously applied to undergraduate applicants to Brenau who had been out of high school for at least seven years.

Ray Tatum, Brenau vice president for enrollment, said that instead of placing heavy emphasis on standardized test performance, Brenau will now rely on “more rigorous admission standards.”

“Those standards include detailed examination of students’ academic transcripts from high school, resumes of their extracurricular work and community service activities, and other factors that we believe to more accurately predict student success and timely graduation from Brenau University,” Tatum said.

However, Brenau’s new test-optional policy has two exceptions:

First, all incoming Women’s College students and men in university undergraduate daytime programs applying for the prestigious Brenau Scholars program and all prospective students who are applying for some other competitive institutional scholarships must submit test scores.

Second, students who participate in intercollegiate athletics through Brenau Women’s College still have to take the SAT or ACT to comply with rules of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The university recently hired a coach to build an intercollegiate lacrosse program, which will be the Golden Tigers 11th distinct NAIA-recognized competitive sport, complementing cross country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, swimming, track and field, tennis, golf and softball. That does not count the three separate cheerleading programs, junior varsities in softball and basketball as well as the soon-to-be inaugurated indoor track program. With some 200 student athletes on various rosters, that means close to a fifth of the student body still have to have tests scores on their admissions records.

However, said Tatum, “this shift emphasizes that standardized test scores no longer serve as obstacles or gatekeepers for general admission to Brenau. Instead, test scores are regarded as additional evidence that may be considered in the decision to grant admission to any student. Consequently, all applicants will be able to submit scores, if they chose to bolster their applications. Prospective students are also encouraged to submit test scores in support of applications for scholarships or institutional aid.”

With the change, Brenau joins more than 850 colleges and universities throughout the United States that over the last four decades have become either test-optional or test-flexible institutions. Both Agnes Scott College in Atlanta and Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville have previously eliminated the requirement for students to submit acceptable test scores as an absolute condition of admission.

Brenau University President Ed Schrader said that the university based its decision, in part, on a number of significant research activities, including the widely publicized 2014 report from William C. Hiss at Bates College (which became test-optional in 1984), where he was vice president and dean of admissions. The survey of 123,000 students from 20 private schools and six public universities found that 30 percent had been admitted without submitting test scores. He discovered no significant difference between nonsubmitters and submitters in graduation rates or cumulative GPA.

Brenau’s own analysis of graduates showed negligible significance in using standardized scores to predict academic performance throughout their college careers. The Brenau Academic Council has given consensus support for this initiative.

Significantly, the trend away from heavy reliance on standardized tests is growing in popularity among all types and sizes of institutions, including several in both Brenau’s peer and aspirant groups. According to an Aug. 22, 2016, article in The Boston Globe, Amherst College, Dartmouth College and Williams College all have dropped the subject test-requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University. That same week, Inside Higher Education reported that St. John’s University in New York has dropped its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores for at least a three-year trial period.

“It is also informative to look at data from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing,” said Tatum. “The organization reports that even the most selective schools – or perhaps better to say ‘especially the most selective schools’– no longer rely on test scores.”

According to the organization, 46 percent of top-tier liberal arts colleges, and a good number of large research universities, no longer require the tests. Here is some information about that statistic:

  • Among the U.S. News & World Report 2015 ranking of the top national liberal arts institutions, 80 de-emphasize ACT/SAT in admissions decisions, including Bowdoin, Middlebury, Smith, Colby, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Skidmore, Dickenson, Bard, Sarah Lawrence and Bennington.
  • Top national universities from the U.S. News rankings that de-emphasize the tests are Wake Forest, NYU, University of Texas, Texas A&M, The George Washington University, Drexel, Duquesne, Washington State, Kansas State and Virginia Commonwealth.
  • The trend toward test-optional or test-flexible admissions status has been underway since at least the early 1980s but has not spread as significantly in the South as in other regions. 13 schools in Brenau’s “Regional Universities” classification in the U.S. News rankings have embraced the test-optional/test- flexible mode and 44 more in the North regional listings have.
    Among those in the South in the Brenau category are Rollins, Stetson, Furman, Mary Washington, Radford, Marymount, Hampton, Jacksonville and Mississippi University for Women.
  • Northern schools include Ithaca College, Quinnipiac, Roger Williams, Montclair State and Chatham.

Additionally, a 2014 University of Georgia study highlights several benefits of test-optional status, some practical and some more socially conscious:

  • Diminishing the importance of SAT/ACT scores typically increases applications. According to observations in a 2015 report in The New York Times, this change enables schools to become more selective using other criteria.
  • Removing test scores from the tabulation in some rankings, like those of U.S. News & World Report, would mathematically cause Brenau’s rankings to go up. Although the university does not place too much stock in rankings, prospective international students do.
  • In keeping with Brenau’s mission, the more flexible admissions process expands access to a greater pool of prospective students, especially minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged, who may not perform as well on standardized tests while performing above average on class assignments and in-class exams. Significantly, these students often succeed when given the opportunity to study in smaller classes under an engaged professor’s direction – students who typically flourish in Brenau’s culture.

“Simply stated, the test-optional process provides the university with the flexibility to attract students that Brenau historically has been so successful in educating,” said Schrader. “These are the students who are, as we often say, so much more than a score.”

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