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Here's how loosened admission requirements affect UNC System applicants

new testing policies

DTH Photo Illustration. North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that the state Department of Public Instruction is making changes to standardized tests, making the tests shorter to help ease the strain on students and teachers. 

The Board of Governors voted to change the UNC System’s minimum admission requirements in a special meeting Monday. The decision came in response to the cancellation or postponement of spring SAT and ACT tests due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The previous criteria required applicants to have a weighted high school GPA of 2.5 and a combined SAT of 880 or ACT of 17. Under the new policy, students who have a minimum weighted high school GPA of 2.5, or an SAT of 1010 or ACT of 19, will be eligible for admission.  

But the new policy is not test-optional, meaning that students will still be required to submit some form of standardized test score with their application.

Essentially, students who don’t meet either the minimum GPA or minimum standardized test requirement will still be eligible for admission, as long as they meet one of the criteria.

Adam Schmidt, the president of the UNC Association of Student Governments and ex-officio student member of the Board of Governors, said the revision has been in the works for a while. 

He said it was originally proposed as a long-term policy change that would take effect in fall 2021 if approved but the implementation date was expedited in response to the pandemic. 

Kimberly van Noort, senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer for the UNC System, said the board did not want to permanently approve the revisions. Instead, she said they decided to implement the changes with a sunset period of three years.

“So there will be a three-year period in which this will be in effect, but they plan to continue their conversations about it once we’re in a little more of a more normalized state,” van Noort said.

Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, said the change was healthy for the UNC System as a whole, but he does not think it will have much of an impact on UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We just don’t see a lot of students who don’t meet the minimum requirements as they are, so it hasn’t been a factor in admissions for us,” Farmer said. “But I think it will definitely be a factor for some of the other schools in the system, and I think they feel very good about this change.”

Schmidt said the new criteria will benefit students in both current and future admissions cycles. Schmidt said about 6,000 students in the current admissions cycle are waiting to hear back from a UNC institution that may have wanted them to submit a higher SAT or ACT score. Under the new requirements, he said, these students are now eligible for admission. 

Additionally, Schmidt said the policy will benefit fall applicants whose testing plans have been hindered by the pandemic and now have fewer opportunities to raise their scores.

“And then we know this is going to help about an additional 20,000 students across N.C. every year who don’t necessarily meet the standard as it was before, but they meet the GPA or the standardized test score,” Schmidt said.

This lowered standard was a point of concern at Monday’s meeting. Steven Long, vice chairperson of the System's Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs, said he opposed the motion because it could cause unprepared students to enroll in universities and result in lower graduation rates.

“It would prevent these students from going on a different course — a shorter, more focused educational experience at community colleges, the military, in business or other programs — and that would cause them to incur debt towards a college degree that statistics tell us they are most likely not going to achieve,” Long said. 

Despite some board members’ concern, Anna Spangler Nelson, chairperson of the Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs, said she trusts in the leadership of individual campus admissions systems to make decisions in the best interest of student success. 

Farmer echoed these sentiments, saying schools in the UNC system are committed to evaluating students and deciding whether or not their institution is a good fit for the students’ preparation and aspirations.

“I don’t think schools will stop doing that because now we have an either/or standard as opposed to both/and standard,” Farmer said. “I think the concern is a good one, and it's coming from a good place.”

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