College Board

Since state requirements over UT’s automatic admission policy changed in 2011, the average SAT score of accepted freshman has continued to increase.

For the first time since 2010, the University is increasing the percentage with which Texas students are automatically accepted to the University from the top-7 percent of high school classes to the top-8 percent. The change will go into effect for those applying for admission beginning in fall 2016. 

Before 2010, the University automatically accepted the top-10 percent of high school classes. Since fall 2011, the University has been required by law to admit 75 percent of its incoming freshmen automatically based on their high school class rankings and has changed the automatic acceptance threshold.

Between fall 2011 and fall 2013, the University’s average composite SAT score for first-time freshmen increased 0.8 percent from a composite score of 1858 to 1872, according to data from the University’s Institutional Reporting, Research, and Information Systems. In fall 2007, after the SAT switched to a 2400-point grading system, the score was 1833. The College Board announced earlier this year it will switch back to a 1600-point grading system.

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said the University’s increase in SAT scores might be because of the growth in the number of UT applicants over the past 10-15 years.

“When more students apply to the University, you end up in a situation where you have the ability to be more selective, especially for students who want to enter into [science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or] STEM fields,” Laude said. “The math SAT score is just a very good indication of your math preparation. Schools like the Cockrell School of Engineering and the College of Natural Sciences naturally look for students who have high math SATs.”

Laude said the competition between people to be in the top percent of their classes produces students who are better at taking standardized tests.

Students who are not admitted as automatic qualifiers are accepted under holistic review.

“Holistic review asks that we look at a large number of different factors to determine who it is who will be admitted,” Laude said. “SAT is just one of those. However, because there’s such substantial interest in STEM fields, I think you start to see a disproportionate weighting given toward the SAT for those particular areas because admissions is looking for a goodness of fit for a student.”

SAT and ACT scores of Austin Independent School District students have also increased.

According to AISD, the average overall SAT scores for AISD students during the 2013-2014 school year was 1507, compared with 1432 statewide. The average ACT composite score for AISD students was 21.9, exceeding the state and national average composite scores of 20.9 and 21.0, respectively.

“Preparing Austin students to graduate college-ready is among our top priorities at AISD,” AISD Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz said in a statement. “An increase in SAT and ACT scores, as well as higher participation in taking these exams, shows we are making progress.”

Laude said about 38,000 students applied to the University in fall 2013, and he expects this number to grow over the next few years, therefore increasing the competition for non-automatic qualifying spots.  

“It means you just have to be really, really good across the board to be able to get in,” Laude said.

College Board announced Wednesday that it has revised its SAT, reversing many of the changes made to the test in its last revision in 2005. The new test will be administered in the spring of 2016, and College Board will publish sample sections on its website by April 16, 2014.

The major change in the revised test lies in its scoring format. The scale, raised from a 1600 to a 2400-point system in 2005, has been lowered back to its former scale. In addition, College Board will no longer penalize wrong answers with deductions.

Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions, said the University is still weighing the impact of the changes.

“How students perform will depend on, as it is for any test, how well students prepare rather than on the qualities of the test itself,” Ishop said. “It’s too early for us to know if or how the changes may affect our admission practices or policies.”

The new SAT will leave the essay portion as a separately-scored option for particularly strong writers to take advantage of, though colleges and universities can still request it from applicants. Chemical engineering senior Ishita Madan, an SAT tutor at Austin-based House of Tutors, said she thinks the test will be more practical, but the removal of the required essay might detract from other important skills.

“[The] SAT is important to encourage good writing styles, but removing the essay section may discourage high school students from focusing on their good writing techniques needed for college,” Madan said.

The new changes have brought about mixed reactions from students who see the new test as too relaxed, but finance senior Nancy Bonds said the impact would be positive.

“I’m not a huge fan of the standardized testing method of measuring student success,” Bonds said. “The changes better reflect the knowledge you need in college.”

College Board will partner with Khan Academy, a free online education service, to provide free test preparation materials to those without access to tutoring.

Ishop said the partnership fosters more equality for qualified students.

“That students from any background will have access to quality test preparation is a positive step forward to removing barriers for talented students to demonstrate their readiness for college,” Ishop said.

Tuition and fees for four-year public universities have increased by a greater percentage than those of private institutions for the fifth year running, according to a new report by the College Board.

The “Trends in College Pricing 2011” report blames a steady decline in state funding as well as the weakened economy for the 8.3 percent national increase in published yearly tuition fees. Fees at four-year public institutions increased from an average of $7,613 in the 2010-11 academic year to an average of $8,244 in the 2011-12 academic year. The percentage change drops to 7 percent if Californian students are excluded, according to the report.

Fees rose by only 4.5 percent at private four-year colleges, from $27,265 in the 2010-11 academic year to $28,500 in the 2011-12 academic year, the report found.

Public institutions continue to get a significant portion of their revenues from the state while private institutions do not, said Sandy Baum, an independent policy analyst for the College Board and co-author of the report.

“Students should be sure they understand all the financial aid that is available to them and the options for repaying their federal student loans,” Baum said.

The price increase at four-year public universities in Texas was only 4.3 percent this year, Baum said. Students in Texas could expect to pay $8,078 per annum, slightly lower than the national average, according to the report.

Vice president and chief financial officer Kevin Hegarty said UT is being forced to seek alternate sources of funding to make up for the shortfall in state funding. In 1977, state funding accounted for 85 percent of UT’s funding. Hegarty said it currently only makes up 13 percent of the $2.3 billion total operating budget.

“That’s a huge reduction over a long period of time,” Hegarty said. “If you look at funding per student adjusted for inflation, it’s actually lower than a decade ago. Obviously, it’s a reflection of the difficult position the state is in.”

Continuing to build endowment donations and reduce the cost of doing business without diminishing quality was essential, Hegarty said.

“Unfortunately in most states, including Texas, we’ve had to ask parents to pay more vis-a-vis tuition increases. It’s definitely part of the pressure,” Hegarty said.

Finance senior Yashar Pirasteh said he relied on loans and scholarships to pay his tuition bills. Tuition price hikes could only be justified by a measured improvement in educational services, he said.

“In my first semester, I was paying $4,400 and now it’s close to $6,000. That’s more than a 30 percent increase in four years,” Pirasteh said. “I don’t think the standard of my education is improving, but we’re all paying more.”

College Board President Gaston Caperton announced he will step down from his position effective on June 30, 2012. The search for his replacement will begin in the next few months. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work on these important issues with such a talented and dedicated staff and board,” Caperton said in a March 25 statement. In 1999, he was appointed the eighth president of the College Board, the organization that oversees SAT and Advanced Placement testing. During his tenure the SAT added an essay to the reading and math portions of the exam. “During a time of great economic crisis, I am especially proud of the work we have done to open the doors of college to underserved students and I am committed to continuing this important work for the next 15 months,” Caperton said. Bruce Walker, UT’s vice provost for special projects, has held several roles on the Board and was on the College Board’s board of trustees while Caperton was president. “When he took over as president, the College Board was a rather stale organization that was focused mainly on tests,” Walker said. “He raised the sights of the members to look more nationally at educational issues.” UT is a member of the College Board, which allows the University to influence board actions. Walker said there is a strong relationship between the College Board, UT and students. “We’ll look back at his presidency as sort of a golden age of the College Board in terms of advocacy for students, particularly those who do not have access to higher education,” Walker said.