Colleges chose diversity over merit. Now, they’re getting neither

By Reagan Reese

Eliminating the use of standardized college admission tests to judge college applicants in order to increase diversity on campus is not working, according to an October report.

Colleges that eliminated mandatory testing for applications, going “test-optional,” are struggling to fairly assess students because they lack standards to judge the applicants, according to a report by Vanderbilt University Assistant Professor Kelly Slay. While test-optional admissions have increased applicants, a lack of academic standards has created a “chaotic” and “stressful” process leading to bias that was intended to be ignored.

“One of the things we concluded is that test optional does not mean an increase in diversity – racial diversity or socio-economic diversity,” the report stated.

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While test-optional admissions have increased applicants, a lack of academic standards has created a “chaotic” and “stressful” process leading to bias that was intended to be ignored.

More than 1,700 colleges did not require students to submit college admissions tests such as the SAT and ACT with their applications, according to the report.

A study by the American Educational Research Journal found that schools which eliminated admission test requirements before the COVID-19 pandemic in order to increase diversity saw a 1% increase in diversity of black, Latino and Native American students. Low-income students, who test-optional admissions also seek to target, only increased by 1% as well.

“It’s really hard to ignore test scores if that’s the way you were trained to review applications and think about merit,” the report stated. “If the standardized test is there in the file, it might still bias you in ways that you’re not aware of. It’s an anchoring bias.”

Without test scores admissions officers leaned on recommendation letters and extracurricular activities which still favored high-income and white students, the report stated. Students without strong test scores continued to fall at a disadvantage to students with better test scores because those same students had the advantage in extracurricular activities and recommendations.

“I think the students that do have the strong test scores still do have that advantage, especially when you have a student that has strong test scores versus a student who doesn’t have test scores and everything else on the academics is more or less the same,” an admissions officer said in the report.

John Sailers, a fellow at the National Association of Scholars, a nonprofit focused on reforming higher education, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that going test-optional is not the solution to increasing diversity as it makes the admissions process murkier.

“It’s pure magical thinking to expect good results by eliminating standardized tests,” Sailers told the DCNF. “From the start, it’s been clear that removing objective tests from admissions would erode standards—and it has—while simultaneously giving a greater advantage to wealth students who can game the ‘holistic admissions’ system.”

High institutions are also using diversity, equity and inclusion statements to vet faculty and students; professors at the Indiana University School of Medicine are to write a “short narrative DEI summary” if they wish to be tenured.

Harvard University and the University of North Carolina use race-conscious admission policies, but despite this they still struggle to increase the presence of minorities on campus.

Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, a parental rights in education group, told the DCNF that test-optional policies require college admission officers to use other areas of merit which still creates a bias.

“Through policies like ‘test optional,’ academic excellence is being sacrificed on the altar of diversity and equity – often to the detriment of the very students of the very students such initiatives purport to help. By replacing standardized tests with so-called ‘holistic’ admission efforts, schools now simply use subjective factors like ‘personality’ to reject qualified students – which unsurprisingly, disproportionately, impacts students whose test scores would otherwise have earned them places in a merit-based program. Artificial attempts to craft a student body on the basis of race – no matter intent – is not only immoral, but also unconstitutional.”

Slay did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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5 thoughts on “Colleges chose diversity over merit. Now, they’re getting neither

  1. I really wish that I could disagree with you on something. I can’t. The elementary/secondary schools are failing miserably and that carries on to colleges/universities/trades.

    An individual who has completed 12 years of schooling should be able to read, write, communicate and reason at a level that allows them to survive in the adult world. Instead the armed forces, vocational apprenticeships and college admissions counselors are finding more and more that potential recruits cannot qualify because they cannot comprehend the written word or do basic math. They cannot read or comprehend a lease or a loan document or manage their own finances.They do not understand the world outside their own social circle. They don’t know who represents their interests in government or how to contact them.

    Why is that? Are children being born with less apptitude to learn? Doubtful. I think that it is atitude not aptitude. Many kids are being indoctrinated early that they are owed. If they don’t get picked for a pick up baseball team, it is not because they may not be as good as some other kid, it’s discrimination. Coaches have to put every kid in the game even if that child is not putting in the personal effort to become a better player. Students are being passed into the next class not because they have mastered the current class but because it would hurt their esteem if they were held back. (and the parents would go ballistic). That means that the next teacher is less effective because they have to teach down. This means that the entire class is not getting what they should and what the parents are paying for.

    Too much time in a school day is being allocated to non-academic social concepts to the detrement of the hard core subjects like math, reading, grammar, history, geography, civics etc. Social morality and values are best taught by parents and by the good example of the teachers and school officials in day to day situations. .

    This has been going on for some time. I can remember when I was on the faculty of a state college some 40 years ago, one of the questions posed to faculty was “are you going to take off for spelling” . Some folks would ask, is it necesary that a student spell and use proper grammar if they understand the concepts? Yes, it is. Teachers and professors should be using an interdisciplinary approach to teaching. Students should understand the concepts and be able to explain them professionally.

    Affirmative action is wrong because it may place a less qualified candidate above a qualified one which may lower the overall level of the class it also puts a shaddow on the qualifications of every candidate from that group. Are they qualified or just an affirmative action student/hire. Affirmative action might be justified in providing financial assistance to a QUALIFIED candidate who needs some assitance.

  2. If one was to look at what 8th graders were tested on from the 1800’s to early 1900’s, many of today’s college students couldn’t pass it. What happened to aptitude testing from then on explains why education is a business and powerful control mechanism. For the majority of society, the only promise higher education ensures is debt and servitude for the rest of ones life. As my grandfather would say, “educated idiots.”

  3. I’m so sick of all of this.
    I have no idea why these people cannot accept the hard reality that it’s impossible to create “Equality”.

    Equality is largely in the eye of the beholder and everyone is going to see this differently.
    Your experience and my experience, these are as different as our opinions on anything.
    What I call equal and what you call equal can be worlds apart.
    I’ve never understood why on earth we are even getting into all of this in states that are practically entirely all white- I mean how big of an issue is this really? and yet it’s completely destroyed higher education as they reinvent the wheel to deal with smaller issues blown wildly out of proportion..
    Just like Climate Change!
    Just like Transgenderism!!
    Just like Abortion!!!

    Perhaps minorities simply don’t want to go to college as much as white students do, perhaps it’s a cultural thing, who knows.
    There are just so many realities that these people don’t want to accept.
    They don’t even ask the right questions- and yet they claim to know so much.
    There is a whole lot out there that just IS, and there is not much that we can do about this.
    And THAT is the The Reality.
    We are supposed to cope and be resilient.. there is a reason for this need to be taught.

    College was never meant to be a walk in the park.
    It’s not supposed to be easy, and many people don’t want or need to go to college.
    There is nothing wrong with college being for the best, the brightest, the most driven among us.
    If that is you, if you have worked your way to this, then yeah, money shouldn’t stand in the way, there should be paths for these people. BUT this is not something that should simply be handed out because you are this color or that color or lived this life or that life.
    Not testing people to see how intelligent they are is nuts.
    I mean as people out here living within the society that these colleges claim to be preparing students for, DO WE want students in college that shouldn’t be there– for whatever reasons!– do you want the doctor that couldn’t pass the test?
    Do you want to take the plane with the pilot that couldn’t pass the test but he was brown so he’s there?
    I mean this is nuts and this is what is going on.. now how on earth is that equal?

    I also wish these people would simply come out and take ownership of the fact that they often try new things that don’t work, so they should be scrapped and return things to whatever worked in the past.
    There is nothing wrong with trying something, then saying “Ya know what, this has not worked, we are going to return to this”.
    This was admirable to have tried and to own your defeat and move in another direction.
    The reason this doesn’t happen though is because there is too much money and power that people don’t want to then give up.. and this is wrong and a huge part of why we are no longer the Meritocracy that we should be.. and we are really suffering now from all these failures.

    There is soooo much going on today that is simply not working and these people don’t want to just stop digging themselves further into the hole- and dragging us all down with them!
    This is not only appalling, it’s flat out stupid and these people claim to be so smart.. they are not.

    • I really wish that I could disagree with you on something. I can’t. The elementary/secondary schools are failing miserably and that carries on to colleges/universities/trades.

      An individual who has completed 12 years of schooling should be able to read, write, communicate and reason at a level that allows them to survive in the adult world. Instead the armed forces, vocational apprenticeships and college admissions counselors are finding more and more that potential recruits cannot qualify because they cannot comprehend the written word or do basic math. They cannot read or comprehend a lease or a loan document or manage their own finances.They do not understand the world outside their own social circle. They don’t know who represents their interests in government or how to contact them.

      Why is that? Are children being born with less apptitude to learn? Doubtful. I think that it is atitude not aptitude. Many kids are being indoctrinated early that they are owed. If they don’t get picked for a pick up baseball team, it is not because they may not be as good as some other kid, it’s discrimination. Coaches have to put every kid in the game even if that child is not putting in the personal effort to become a better player. Students are being passed into the next class not because they have mastered the current class but because it would hurt their esteem if they were held back. (and the parents would go ballistic). That means that the next teacher is less effective because they have to teach down. This means that the entire class is not getting what they should and what the parents are paying for.

      Too much time in a school day is being allocated to non-academic social concepts to the detrement of the hard core subjects like math, reading, grammar, history, geography, civics etc. Social morality and values are best taught by parents and by the good example of the teachers and school officials in day to day situations. .

      This has been going on for some time. I can remember when I was on the faculty of a state college some 40 years ago, one of the questions posed to faculty was “are you going to take off for spelling” . Some folks would ask, is it necesary that a student spell and use proper grammar if they understand the concepts? Yes, it is. Teachers and professors should be using an interdisciplinary approach to teaching. Students should understand the concepts and be able to explain them professionally.

      Affirmative action is wrong because it may place a less qualified candidate above a qualified one which may lower the overall level of the class it also puts a shaddow on the qualifications of every candidate from that group. Are they qualified or just an affirmative action student/hire. Affirmative action might be justified in providing financial assistance to a QUALIFIED candidate who needs some assitance.

  4. What are they looking at if they aren’t looking at test scores? Report cards? What a joke; they are the most biased, random and subjective of all grading systems. Sports teams? Clubs? The essay that accompanies the application which can be purchased for $150? How stupid are these colleges? Wait, don’t answer that.

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