Colleges from Bowdoin in Maine to Pitzer in California dropped the SAT entrance exam as a requirement, saying it favors the affluent, penalizes minorities and doesn’t predict academic success. What they don’t advertise is they find future students by buying names of kids who do well on the test.
Pitzer buys as many as 100,000 names a year based on test scores from the College Board, owner of the SAT, to search for applicants, even after the school became “test-optional” in the 2003-2004 year. Wake Forest University, which stopped requiring the SAT or rival ACT test for students entering in 2009, also buys names, as does Bowdoin, which made scores optional in 1969.
Students are being duped by some schools into thinking that test scores don’t matter, when they matter a great deal for marketing outreach and prestige, said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, which neither requires the tests nor buys names. Test-optional colleges that buy names of high-scoring students are hypocritical, he said.
Pitzer, founded in 1963, buys names of students based on test scores, majors and geography, according to the college. The school doesn’t have the name recognition of some schools and needs to seek out qualified students, said Trombley, who sees no contradiction in buying the names.
“We wanted to welcome more students and not eliminate a pool of students,” she said.
Wake Forest University announced its test-optional policy in 2008. In a letter to faculty and staff at the time, it said that standardized testing continued to be biased against many minority students, “who scored significantly lower than white students.” The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based school held a conference the following year on admissions policy and standardized testing, drawing participants from universities such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
“The SAT is the most rigorously researched and designed test in the world, and is consistently shown to be a fair and valid predictor of college success for all students, regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic status,” said Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman at the New York-based College Board. “The idea that differences in test scores among different groups of students is somehow the result of testing bias is an idea that is largely rejected within mainstream psychology.”