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Proposal to drop entrance exam requirements at public universities advances in Illinois legislature

Proposal to drop entrance exam requirements at public universities advances in Illinois legislature

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Students on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus in December. Two pieces of Illinois legislation aim to make a college degree more accessible: The first would allow residents to apply to any of the state’s 12 public universities without submitting SAT or ACT scores, while the other would guarantee well-performing community college students a spot at the University of Illinois.

Big changes could be coming to admissions at public universities in Illinois after two expansive bills cleared the state Senate Higher Education Committee in recent days.

The two pieces of legislation aim to make a degree more accessible: The first would allow residents to apply to any of the state’s 12 public universities without submitting SAT or ACT scores, while the other would guarantee well-performing community college students a spot at the University of Illinois.

Both bills, which already passed in the House, were elevated out of committee and could next proceed to a full Senate floor vote. The governor must also sign the bills before they become law, which is far from certain.

State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Centreville, presented the test-optional admissions bill, known as the Higher Education Fair Admissions Act, and said it was based on research showing that high school GPAs are a better predictor of college graduation than ACT or SAT scores. The bill calls for all four-year public universities to implement test-optional admissions by January.

“We know children have test anxieties and they don’t do well on these standardized tests, and so to take a snapshot of a person’s high school years and reduce it down to a test ... and to put that kind of weight on that test, we just don’t think it’s fair,” Belt said.

Under the bill, students would still be able to submit test scores if they want. Admissions offices also consider GPA, difficulty of high school courses, personal essays and outside activities.

In response to concerns from Democrat and Republican committee members about state intervention in university decisions, Belt said that absent legislation, “you will have state schools that will never ever switch over.”

While a huge number of Illinois universities, including competitive private institutions, have temporarily waived standardized test requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic, many stopped short of eliminating the exams altogether. Of all the public institutions, the University of Illinois is perhaps the most high-profile school to go test-optional but it hasn’t committed to that approach beyond 2023.

Despite some questions, the bill passed out of committee by an 11-3 vote. Proponents of test-optional or test-blind admissions say such policies create more equity since tests favor well-resourced students who can afford tutors and take it multiple times. But others say it’s unfair to students who score well and the decision should be left to universities, which don’t base entry solely on scores.

The second bill, which would amend the Public University Uniform Admission Pilot Program Act, would make it easier for community college students to transfer to the University of Illinois, according to sponsor Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago.

Under the proposal, all three U. of I. campuses would have to guarantee admission to applicants who graduated from an Illinois high school, earned at least 36 transferable credit hours at an Illinois community college, have obtained a minimum GPA of 3.0 and satisfy the university’s English proficiency requirements.

The measure passed by a unanimous committee vote. It would require U. of I. to launch the program as a four-year pilot beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

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