Conceptions of merit, abandonment of standardized testing requirements in admissions, and diversity in college campuses
Prof. Greta Hsu
Professor of Management
Graduate School of Management
University of California, Davis
When standardized tests like the SAT and ACT were initially introduced to higher education in the United States, they were viewed as systematic, neutral measures of students’ intellect—and thus a means by which talented individuals of all backgrounds could receive the training that would propel them to leadership positions. Over time, standardized testing became central to the college admissions process. However, these tests have become increasingly criticized for unintentionally favoring the structurally advantaged, leading a number of colleges to abandon them. Prior research has shown mixed results regarding the impact of going test-optional on enrolled student diversity; some studies find a small increase in representation from marginalized backgrounds, while others find non-significant effects. In this study, we explore the role that local cultural beliefs and values regarding merit play in the relationship between abandonment of standardized testing requirements in admissions and enrollment of underrepresented minority students on college campuses. Our analyses suggest that abandoning testing requirements generally leads to an increase in underrepresented minority students, but this effect is reduced if universalistic measures remain highly valued in the admissions process. We consider the implications of our findings for organizational scholarship related to practice dynamics as well as contemporary discussion of how standardized test scores influence college admissions decisions.