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Hurst first in region to adopt 'test-optional' policy

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Are the best and the brightest students the ones who can outscore the competition on standardized tests? Or are there better ways of measuring ability and predicting success?

Mercyhurst University believes the latter and announced today that it joins a growing number of colleges and universities that have elected to omit standardized test scores as a requirement of admission. In doing so, Mercyhurst becomes the first university in the Erie area to adopt a “test-optional” admissions policy.

In recent years, more than 850 four-year U.S. colleges and universities have eliminated the standardized testing requirement, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). Among them are schools top ranked by U.S. News & World Report, including Smith College and Bryn Mawr under National Liberal Arts Colleges; Wake Forest and New York University under National Universities; and, in Mercyhurst’s category of Best Regional Universities in the North, top-10 ranked Providence College, Fairfield University, Loyola University (MD), University of Scranton and Ithaca College.

Christian Beyer, director of undergraduate admissions at Mercyhurst, said colleges and universities that have de-emphasized standardized tests have done so for a variety of reasons, but all have expressed concern about the impact of overreliance on the tests.

Standardized tests are tools rather than ends in themselves and, he said, play a small role in identifying how successful applicants will later perform as college students.

“Mercyhurst does not believe in reducing students to numbers and has always championed a holistic approach to admissions,” said Mercyhurst President Tom Gamble, Ph.D. “Becoming test-optional allows us to focus more on the individual, which is consistent with our mission.”

Beyer said Mercyhurst will continue to emphasize academic performance in high school, including GPA and class rank; character traits like persistence and resilience; talent; leadership ability and extracurricular and community engagement.

Another key contributor to Mercyhurst’s policy change is the growing body of research that suggests standardized tests disadvantage certain applicants, among them underrepresented minority groups, first-generation students and applicants whose first language is other than English. In fact, the test requirement often deters some potentially strong students from even applying.

Beyer said the university believes that by eliminating standardized tests as a required element of the application, it will increase the number of applicants and increase diversity. Of the universities that have gone the test-optional route, FairTest reports that the majority have seen an increase in the cultural, racial, socioeconomic and gender diversity of their student body while graduation and retention rates have remained stable.

“This is by no means a relaxing of standards,” Beyer said. Rather, he added, all test-optional applications will be thoroughly scrutinized by committee to ensure the evaluation process is objective and consistent and that the faculty interests in the academic quality of the study body are respected.

Between 85 and 90 percent of students applying to test-optional schools still submit standardized test scores for consideration.

“Like our contemporaries, we only expect a small number of applicants to use the test-optional policy,” Beyer said. “Students submitting test scores should know that we will continue to value and reward them for their academic performance on the SAT and ACT.”

Exclusions to the new policy include student athletes, who must submit scores in compliance with NCAA’s policy for evaluating athletic eligibility.

For more information, please contact the Mercyhurst Admissions Department at 814-824-2202.