University President Bruce McLarty announced to Harding faculty and staff on Friday, Sept. 25, the decision to extend test-optional admission and scholarship awarding for first year students enrolling for spring 2021 and fall 2021. As of Sept. 25, applicants for undergraduate admission for spring or fall 2021 will be granted admission with a minimum test score of 19, or no test score, and a minimum GPA of 3.0.
In his email to Harding faculty and staff, McLarty addressed the administration’s recognition of the difficulties students face in regard to standardized testing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. McLarty expressed the desire for no student to face disadvantages or be unable to enroll because they could not take the SAT or ACT.
“This is a step that has been taken by many other universities, and we wish to remain competitive, as well as responsive to student needs,” McLarty said.
Testing centers and schools across the country canceled SAT and ACT tests earlier this year, which caused many universities, including seven Ivy League schools, to adjust their policies.
Assistant Provost Dana Steil said “test-optional” is a very broad term, and Harding means something very specific by it, as all schools do. He said the test-optional decision only applies to undergraduates for general admittance to school and does not affect scholarship funding.
The admissions office first recognized the need for the transition to the test-optional approach, Steil said, “because they’re the ones communicating with the people.” In order to make a change in the catalog to allow admission to students without standardized test scores, Steil said administration needed faculty approval. About 140 faculty attended the virtual meeting Sept. 7 and agreed unanimously to change the policy.
“There would have been faculty opposed to it had this been normal times, but it’s not,” Steil said.
Departmental and class requirements were not affected by the decision to go test-optional for admittance. Provost Marty Spears said some classes have a test score prerequisite, thus there will be a more individualized strategy for those specific classes.
“On the academic side, we will work with faculty to develop a plan to handle placement for students who do not have a test score,” Spears said.
Steil said some classes will require the Classical Learning Test (CLT) because of standards that call for a departmental gauge of a student’s ability in a certain subject.
“The reason we want to do that is we don’t want to advise students poorly,” Steil said. “We don’t want them in over their head if they’re unable to start in certain classes. We still need a benchmark of where to start them.”
McLarty said tests will be provided at orientation for students who are asked to complete the CLT or another test for academic placement and are unable to take a test before orientation.
Steil said the CLT does not apply for state scholarships, but is an option for students to take remotely or at Harding to then submit scores for higher scholarship money from the University.
McLarty said Harding has not planned to adopt the test-optional policy permanently and will continue to encourage students to take entrance exams as available. Though “if this seems to have some added benefit that we don’t know about, then of course we would follow that,” Steil said.