Meeting Jan. 12 at its Urbandale office, the state Board of Regents voted to move ahead with making national standardized tests -- the ACT or SAT -- optional for admission to Iowa's three public universities. Once a hard-and-fast prerequisite to study at most U.S. colleges and universities, standardized tests temporarily became optional during the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person test sites were a risky undertaking -- for students and test administrators.
According to board data, about one-third of the regent universities' combined fall 2021 class was unable to calculate a score in the Regents Admission Index (RAI) due to a missing ACT score and were admitted through individual review of their applications.
Prospective students who can provide all three components in the regents' 13-year-old RAI -- standardized test composite score, high school GPA and a set of high school core courses -- can quickly calculate their own admissibility. A minimum required score for in-state applicants is 245.
The original index included a fourth data point, class rank, but that, too, became optional in 2015 and was phased out in 2020 in response to declining numbers of high schools that provide it.
Automatic admission still an option for in-state applicants
The board's vote gave executive director Mark Braun authority to complete the steps necessary to amend the Iowa Administrative Code. Its recommendation, adopted from the regent universities' admissions study team, included three elements:
- End the standardized test requirement for admission of first-time undergraduate students.
- Keep the automatic admission pathway (three-factor RAI and 245-point threshold) for Iowa resident applicants.
- Continue to individually review prospective first-time undergraduates who don't have all three RAI components or score an RAI below 245.
The board's chief academic officer, Rachel Boon, told board members a review of a significant volume of data showed that standardized tests provide insight on student preparation, but beyond first-year college grades, aren't strong predictors of student success. High school GPA is more indicative, she said.
She also noted that test-optional policies among universities "are becoming really widespread nationally." The risk would be in putting Iowa's public universities at a competitive disadvantage if they continue to require a standardized test score for admission.
"This recommendation is not about devaluing the ACT. It's really about giving our admissions teams some flexibility in the absence of a test score," she said.
Also during the two-day meeting, the board completed semiannual performance reviews of the university leaders and Braun in closed session.
In his public remarks, board president Michael Richards, a retired medical doctor, again encouraged regent employees and students to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
"Get vaccinated. It's the single most important thing anyone can do," he said. "The vaccines are safe and effective. They overwhelmingly stop serious illness, hospitalizations and death."
Richards said the board's fall semester guidelines for campus operations at the regent universities will remain in place for spring semester. Campus policies should continue to reflect the guidelines, he said.
Richards also said the board is keeping an eye on legal challenges to federal COVID requirements and awaiting additional court decisions "before determining how to proceed at regents institutions."