Free ACT/SAT Exams Boost College Enrollment Rates

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College enrollment rates increase when high schools cover the cost of college entrance exams, new research suggests.

The finding — published by Education Finance and Policy — is based on a study of six classes of high school juniors who attended Michigan schools from 2003-04 to 2007-08. The state has required teens to take a college entrance exam since 2007.

“Overall, the policy increased the probability that students would enroll in college by about 2 percent,” according to an Education Week article about the new research. “Students at schools with higher poverty rates increased their college enrollment rates by 6 percent, and those students who had a low to middling probability of taking the ACT before the policy took effect saw their rates improve by 5 percent afterward.”

Researcher Joshua Hyman said the study shows that the ACT and SAT serve as “a gateway to four-year colleges,” especially for students who may not otherwise consider postsecondary education a possibility.

“I show that for every ten poor students taking a college entrance exam and scoring college-ready, there are an additional five poor students who do not take the test but who would score college-ready if they did,” Hyman told Chalkbeat.

Despite the findings, the study notes that providing free access to college admission exams is “far from a cure-all.”

“There remains a large supply of disadvantaged students who are high-achieving and not on the path to enrolling at a four-year college,” the study notes. “Researchers and policy makers are still faced with the important question of which policies can further stem the tide of rising inequality in educational attainment.”

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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