CORONAVIRUS

Student groups urge waiving college entrance exams, tuition

Iowa universities can't waive ACT or SAT, though they'll work with students

Regent Jim Lindenmayer listens during n April 2019 Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Regent Jim Lindenmayer listens during n April 2019 Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Some student activists are urging universities and colleges to waive college entrance exams because of the coronavirus impact and cancellations. Iowa’s public universities, however, require those exams, though they are pledging to work with students seeking admission this fall. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Students across the country are calling on colleges and universities to ease admissions requirements in the face of this spring’s unprecedented academic interruption and cancellation of ACT and SAT testing, and Iowa’s Board of Regents has committed to “work diligently” with affected students.

The board can’t, however, go as far as one national student collaborative has urged — “test-optional policies” for the freshmen class of 2021 — as its “Regent Admission Index” is enshrined in the Iowa Administrative Rules.

The RAI — as it’s called — allows Iowa residents to earn automatic admission to one of the state’s three public universities using a formula that calculates ACT scores and grade-point averages with the number of core high school courses applicants take.

“RAI administrative rules do not allow us to admit a student automatically without an ACT or SAT score,” Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette.

But ACT and the College Board, which administers the SAT, have canceled the upcoming SAT and ACT exams in response to COVID-19 restrictions, inciting demands that campuses “prioritize equity in the admissions process and adopt test-optional policies.”

Student Voice, a nonprofit working in all 50 states to advocate for “student-driven solutions to educational inequity,” this week specifically suggested campuses eliminate standardized testing requirements during the 2020-21 admissions cycle.

Lehman told The Gazette the board office has been in communication with the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa about coronavirus-related issues. For starters, he said, much of the prospective fall 2020 class already has been admitted.

“The vast majority of students take the ACT and SAT prior to spring of their senior year,” he said.

As for high school juniors and potential applicants for fall 2021, Lehman said, standardized tests continue to be scheduled for June and later. Plus, he said, any student who has not taken a standardized test “can still be admitted to one of our universities via holistic review.”

“And we encourage these students to apply,” he said. “This is an unprecedented time, and our universities will work diligently with students if they wish to pursue higher education.”

Iowa’s public universities — like its private and community colleges and most higher education institutions nationally — in March canceled in-person classes in response to the spreading coronavirus, moving courses online.

Denise Cheeseman — lead organizer for Iowa Student Action, a Des Moines-based collaboration advocating for higher education students statewide — said regents and their universities need to make sweeping accommodations for the multitude of ways their students have been negatively affected.

WAIVE TUITION?

Beyond grading accommodations, which the campuses have made, and admissions considerations, Iowa Student Action is calling on the institutions to waive tuition for the next year — or risk losing students and Iowa’s youth pipeline.

“We’re really concerned that students across the state are going to be taking leaves of absences, or even dropping out since they’re losing jobs, their parents are losing jobs and tuition is not being reimbursed for the semester,” Cheeseman said. “We are expecting and already starting to see that a lot of students are going to be leaving school if there’s no action taken there.”

If the COVID-19 on-campus cancellations continue into the fall, Cheeseman warned of the need for drastic action to keep students from dropping out or even applying.

“I don’t know any student who I’ve talked to who sees the online learning experience as comparable,” she said. “And beyond that, even if it was, I think students are feeling — just because of the economic pressures of not being able to work their on-campus jobs or not being able to work new part-time jobs now that they’ve been sent back to their parents’ homes ... — they are probably not going to be able to pay tuition next year.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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