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Bitter Irony in Test-Blind Admissions

Those in favor of test-optional and test-blind admissions tend to wax poetic about the need to abolish testing requirements in order to improve access and equity. I have previously written about how the latter belief is misguided (see here) and false (see here).

But today I want to highlight one school in particular because the school and its head of admissions have declared themselves champions of test-blind admissions policies and harshly criticized colleges that do otherwise.

That school is Worcester Polytechnic Institute with its head of admissions, Andrew Palumbo.

He doesn’t hide his criticism of MIT for going back to requiring test scores and likens MIT’s decision to a slow-motion train wreck:

He congratulates himself that WPI has “evolved beyond the use of standardized test scores and their problematic correlations with family income, race & ethnicity, and gender” and states that he is “proud of [WPI’s] effort to double down on data, equity, and actual academics.”

Ok, so WPI must be much more equitable with respect to family income, race & ethnicity, and gender, right? Let’s take a look. We can use MIT as a comparison because Andrew does so himself, and they are both STEM-centric schools.

Family Income

Students who receive Pell Grants generally come from families with incomes below $60,000, so their enrollment is a good measure of how equitable a college is based on family income.

How does WPI deliver on this measure of equity? 10.5% of its students received Pell Grants (532 full-time undergrad Pell Grant receipts out of a total of 5,058 full-time undergrads). According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, it holds an unenviable spot in the “Worst 20 Colleges for Pell Enrollment.”

How about MIT? 20% received Pell Grants.

And, worse, even though WPI continues to enroll more students, it continues to enroll fewer Pell Grant students, both as a percentage of its class and even in the absolute number of Pell Grant students.

Fall of 2013Fall of 2022
Total # of Students38935058
% Pell Grant Students15.1%10.5%
# of Pell Grant Students586532
Full-Time Undergrad Students at WPI

Winner: MIT, almost twice as equitable

Race & Ethnicity

Only 3% of WPI’s students identify themselves as Black/African-American — and that percentage has been essentially unchanged since before and after the college went test-blind.

How does that compare? At MIT, 13% of students identify themselves as Black/African American.

To give a little more context, just how bad is WPI’s lack of diversity? So bad. Consider this: 7.5% of Washington and (Robert E.) Lee University’s incoming class identify themselves as Black/African American.

Winner: MIT, by an incredibly large margin (MIT has 4.3 times more of its class that identify themselves as Black/African American)

Gender

Surely WPI will win in at least get 1 out of the 3 areas of equity that Andrew says his school has “doubled down” on, right?

So 36% of WPI’s undergrads identify themselves as female.

How about at MIT? 43%.

Winner: MIT

Conclusion

Surely the admissions team at WPI is at least a bastion of diversity? Take a look for yourself: https://www.wpi.edu/admissions/undergraduate/connect/meet-the-team. (1/18/23 Update: after this post came out, WPI removed all pictures of their admissions team. You can guess what they are trying to hide: they have no diversity. For confirmation, you can also view a PDF file here of their admissions webpage before they updated it.) I’m sure you can already guess that MIT practices more diversity in its own admissions team, but here’s a link to their team too: https://mitadmissions.org/about/meet-the-admissions-officers/.

Interesting to note as well that WPI’s retention rate has continued to slide (from 96% to 91%).

MIT’s retention rate, in contrast, has gone from virtually perfect (98%) to even more virtually perfect (99%).

And WPI’s acceptance rate keeps going up (from 52% to 60%), and its yield rate keeps going down (from 25% to 21%).

MIT’s yield rate (which shows what percentage of admitted students decide that MIT is their top choice and want to attend) is 77%.

Not sure the characterization that MIT is a slow-motion train wreck is accurate…

But, Andrew is adamant that MIT admissions officers are not good at what they do.

And he has the data to back it up.

So, you mean test scores + high school grades only increase the correlation to success by .08, which is only a 15% increase in accuracy of prediction? Wait. Actually, that’s a lot…

Instead of aspiring to equal MIT, however, WPI should apparently start with even just trying to rival the equity of Washington and Lee, which is more equitable than WPI with respect to family income, race & ethnicity, and gender.

Maybe it’s time to start looking at what anti-test crusaders do (have no diversity within their own admissions departments and have lower rates of Pell Grant recipients, underrepresented minorities, and women attending) rather than just what they say (that test scores are classist, racist, and sexist), especially when those that they criticize have the actions and outcomes to back-up their rhetoric that the SAT and ACT never limited diversity (colleges could always admit whomever they want) and instead allow colleges to admit a diverse class that is also best equipped to succeed. See MIT’s rhetoric (which their actions support) below:

From MIT Admissions Website:

Addendum, 12/02/2022: Some people have reached out with the very justified comment that MIT has the funds (a much larger endowment) to be more equitable than WPI. I agree. But that doesn’t impact the facts above: WPI is actually enrolling FEWER Pell Grant students since becoming test-blind — so going test-blind has corresponded to less equity, not more. That directly contradicts the professions by WPI that it’s the use of the SAT or ACT that necessarily negatively impacts the equity of a college’s admissions.

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