FAYETTEVILLE -- The faculty senate at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to change its admission policy for in-state students, making college entrance exams optional for applicants with at least a 3.2 high school grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.
The raised hands weren't counted, but the vote appeared to be about 25 to 5.
For the past two years, UA has temporarily dropped its minimum ACT score requirement for admission.
That began when the emergence of the covid-19 pandemic made test-taking difficult.
Freshman enrollment increased as a result.
"A first benefit of the test-optional policy is that it has reportedly improved access, state representativeness, and diversity along race/ethnicity and [high school]/regional lines," according to a document in the meeting agenda called "Considerations for Making Admissions Test-Optional" by Jesse Delaney, director of Student Success Data Analysis.
"A second benefit of the test-optional policy is increased freshman enrollment and resulting options for reshaping future enrollment," wrote Delaney.
"Growth in new freshman enrollment beyond the old norm of 4,300-5,000 per fall to 6,000+ can be attributed entirely to the test-optional policy. ... Based on 2022 admissions indicators, the test-optional policy appears capable of attracting more than 6,500 freshmen per fall. That expanded pool of would-be students gives the university the opportunity to trim future enrollment in ways that optimize retention and graduation."
High school grade-point averages explain historical outcomes far better than test scores, according to Delaney.
Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment management and dean of admissions, told the faculty senate in a meeting last month that, for UA students with the same high school grade-point average of 3.2-3.3, data show higher one-year retention rates for students without a minimum ACT score of 20 compared with students with an ACT score in the 20-23 range.
But more research is needed, she told the faculty leaders on Wednesday.
"We need five years of data, so right now we have one that really shows this semester to semester," she said.
"We need to see how they get to graduation, and so we need a six-year study. One more year really won't help us. We don't know what's going to happen in their junior and senior year."
McCray said the faculty senate can revisit the issue in subsequent years.
"We really do need at least six years to understand what the impact is, but right now it's very encouraging," she said.
High school grade-point average is a better indicator for admission for students, said McCray.
In an email, Mark Rushing, associate vice chancellor for university relations, said the proposal would require review and approval at multiple levels on campus, including by the provost and chancellor.
And if approved, a campus proposal like this would also require approval from the board of trustees.
Rushing said the proposal is for the 2023-24 academic year. The temporary change for in-state admissions will continue into the 2022-23 academic year.
According to the university's catalog, the minimum admission requirements for Arkansas residents who have taken the course requirements are an overall high school grade-point-average of 3.0 or better and an ACT score of 20 or an equivalent 930 SAT or 1020 Redesigned SAT score or better.
That wording wasn't changed with the temporary changes implemented two years ago because of covid-19.
The proposed wording passed by the faculty senate on Wednesday says applicants from Arkansas with a 3.2 high school grade-point-average or higher "will be reviewed for admission to the University of Arkansas without a qualifying test score."
But test scores must be submitted by May 1 for placement and enrollment purposes and to meet state reporting requirements, according to the proposal. Anyone who is applying with a grade-point-average below a 3.2 should submit scores.
"Out-of-state applicants must meet minimum admissions requirements and may be required to meet higher standards, depending on demand," according to both the current and proposed catalog wording.
"Students not meeting minimum admission requirements are still encouraged to apply and will be reviewed for possible admission by the Admissions and Appellate Board."