How to Understand the Long-Term Impacts of the UC Regents’ Decision Regarding the SAT
Last Thursday (5/21/2020), the UC Regents announced that the University of California will gradually phase out the usage of the SAT and ACT examinations in college admissions. The test will be “optional” for those applying in 2021 and 2022, will be used only for scholarship or course-placement purposes in 2023 and 2024. According to their timetable, starting 2025, the UCs will either have developed their own standardized test or simply become “test-blind,” meaning that they will not look at any SAT or ACT scores.
This is a decision that will likely negatively impact everyone, including students, professors, and alumni. Standardized testing is a way for colleges to determine who the best students are without having to rely merely on school grades, as grading standards vary from school to school (or teacher to teacher) and are ultimately very subjective. For example, top grades at a typical school in the Bay Area are much harder to achieve than at a school in Fresno, one of the poorest areas in California and among all fifty states. Without standardized testing, colleges will end up admitting students who do not belong at that particular college, or could even students who do not belong in any college whatsoever.
This concern has caused UC professors to unanimously disagree with the idea of eliminating the SAT and ACT from the admissions process. Professors already struggle to teach students, many of whom lack college-level academic skills, and professors certainly do not want to teach even lower-quality students. If the quality of students decreases as a result of eliminating the SATs, professors will have to either lower their standards, or fail more students. Likely there will be a combination of both; and consequently, the quality of education, the four-year graduation rate, and the reputation of the university will suffer.
Alumni (especially recent graduates) will also be unhappy with the decision, as employers will realize that the newer graduates are not as intellectually talented and capable as before, and therefore will be less willing to hire UC graduates.
But what does this mean for each student? It depends on the student’s year of graduation.
If you are a sophomore or junior right now who will apply in 2021 or 2022, then the test is “optional.” But in reality, you will still have to take the exam. The reasoning is simple. Would you rather choose a student who has sent in a high SAT score, or a student who has sent in no SAT score? The answer is obvious: the college is going to choose the student who has sent in a high SAT score rather than the student who chose not to send any SAT score at all. It’s a similar situation with buying a car. Would you rather buy a car that you’ve seen and test-driven, or buy a car that you’ve never seen before from a person you’ve never met?
If you are a freshman or an 8th grade student right now who will apply in 2023 and 2024, you should still plan to take the SAT, and you should also plan to apply to select private colleges. The SAT will still be used to determine scholarships (lowering the amount of tuition by tens of thousands of dollars) and course placement, allowing earlier graduation (and therefore, again lowering the total amount of tuition by tens of thousands of dollars). Simultaneously, students should apply to more private colleges, which are unlikely to go “test-blind,” because doing so will ruin their long-term future.
If you are a student who will apply in 2025 or later, either you will 1) have to take the UC examination, OR 2) no examination at all if the UC fails to come up with their own test. If there is no test whatsoever, your school grades will be the only real factor relevant to college admissions. If there is a standardized test developed for the UC by 2025, it won’t be too different from what the ACT or SAT is already like. There is a need to assess “college readiness,” and whatever standardized test is ultimately used, it will test a student’s college-level academic skills.
But regardless of which year you will apply to college, it’s important to realize that the best days of the University of California are over. Even UC Berkeley will lose reputation as a result. Consequently, it’s best to find a solid number of private schools that offer good financial aid packages, something that you might want to consider finding help for. Good private schools will always look at the SAT (or other tests that assess college-level ability), because their reputation depends on the quality of students that they accept each year. And if they do not maintain their reputation, their financial future is over. Alumni will stop donating, and students will not pay tuition to enroll into the college. The University of California, unfortunately, does not have these same incentives to do what’s best for their students and graduates. The UCs do not have to worry about losing these financial resources because taxpayers have no choice but to continue giving them money, which in part explains why the UC Regents and other UC administrators frequently make irresponsible and poor decisions (such as building more swimming pools on campus while repeatedly stuffing three students into dorm rooms meant for only one student).
Lastly, SAT or not, it is important to develop college-level academic skills before going to college. College-level academic skills (also known as “scholastic aptitude” or “college readiness”) is what will ensure that you do well in college, obtain strong grades, and graduate on time. After all, it’s important not only to get into a good college, but also to do well during college. Employers will not care about your Harvard degree if you’ve received mostly Cs and Bs while you were there.