As K-12 educational quality and learning outcomes have slipped, many college admissions offices have shifted focus from objective measures of students’ academic ability, such as SAT and ACT scores, to more subjective ones, such as GPAs, community involvement, extracurricular projects, and life experiences (so-called “holistic” admissions criteria). Some schools have even gone “test optional” and encourage applicants to submit personal videos attesting to their fitness for college. Such changes are not surprising; in September, for instance, it was reported that SAT composite scores are at their lowest ebb in ten years. But that decline has not resulted in a decrease in college enrollment; rather, the higher education establishment has kept enrollment high by lowering admissions standards, engaging in more remediation, and even watering down standardized tests such as the SAT (in 2016, for example, the College Board is changing the SAT so that it more closely aligns with Common Core).
In today’s Pope Center feature, Jenna A. Robinson, the Center’s president, explains how a new change to North Carolina public high schools’ grading scale, which will make it easier for students to earn high marks, could result in more academically weak students being admitted to the state’s public universities, where the likelihood of those students’ success will be very low. Robinson argues that the latest grading changes, along with a forthcoming redesign of the SAT, should prompt UNC system officials to increase admissions standards. “[It is] certain that these two changes, coming at the same time, pose a significant problem for university admissions officers. Identifying prepared, talented applicants will be much more difficult without the reliable, consistent metrics that universities relied upon in the past,” writes Robinson.