GW Drops SAT Requirement To Achieve More Diverse Class, Proves Justice Thomas’s Grutter Dissent Correct

July 28th, 2015

The Washington Post reports that George Washington University will no longer require applicants to take the SAT or ACT. Why? Because “standardized tests are a barrier to recruiting disadvantaged students” and the exams are “culturally biased and often fail to reflect academic potential.” Not even the “holistic” approach–blessed by the Court in Grutter–can accomplish enough diverse students:

“Although we have long employed a holistic application review process, we had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance,” said Dean of Admissions Karen Stroud Felton. “We want outstanding students from all over the world and from all different backgrounds – regardless of their standardized scores – to recognize GW as a place where they can thrive.”

Specifically, GW thinks the SAT discourages minority students from applying to more selective schools, out of a fear they won’t get in.

But GWU officials said that in recent years they have grown worried that their efforts to diversify were hitting obstacles. They feared that some students with strong records in high school were not applying because of a misguided perception that their scores weren’t good enough.

Translation: the applicant pool of diverse students is not big enough.

“We want those students to have us on their radar, and not self-select out of the pool,” said Laurie Koehler, GWU’s senior associate provost for enrollment management. That is the primary reason for GWU’s policy shift, which takes effect for students seeking admission for fall 2016. …

GWU wants to raise its national profile and diversify its student body. With a full price of more than $62,000 for tuition, fees, room and board, GWU provides significant grants to students in need. Fourteen percent of undergraduates receive need-based federal Pell grants. Fourteen percent also are black or Hispanic.

GW is not alone. Wake Forest University also dropped the standardized test requirement to recruit more minority students.

Wake Forest University, 27th on the national university list, said it has recruited more minority students since announcing a test-optional policy in 2008. “We find much more value in a student’s accomplishments in four years of high school than in four hours of Saturday testing,” said Martha Blevins Allman, dean of admissions at the private university in Winston-Salem, N.C.

If this argument seems familiar to readers of this blog, it should. In his dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Thomas contends that if schools really want to increase diversity–and this is indeed a “compelling” interest that satisfies strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause–then there is a much easier way of accomplishing this goal then using race-based preferences: drop the discriminatory admission criteria. Thomas cites the success of historical black colleges that do no have stringent admission criteria. But of course, Thomas writes, “elite” schools will not do this as it will impact their academic selectivity.” Instead, they turn to affirmative action as a way to keep their elite rankings, and admit more minority students, without harming their overall academic standing.

Read this passage carefully.

One must also consider the Law School’s refusal to entertain changes to its current admissions system that might produce the same educational benefits. The Law School adamantly disclaims any race-neutral alternative that would reduce “academic selectivity,” which would in turn “require the Law School to become a very different institution, and to sacrifice a core part of its educational mission.” Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 33—36. In other words, the Law School seeks to improve marginally the education it offers without sacrificing too much of its exclusivity and elite status.4

4.  The Law School believes both that the educational benefits of a racially engineered student body are large and that adjusting its overall admissions standards to achieve the same racial mix would require it to sacrifice its elite status. If the Law School is correct that the educational benefits of “diversity” are so great, then achieving them by altering admissions standards should not compromise its elite status. The Law School’s reluctance to do this suggests that the educational benefits it alleges are not significant or do not exist at all.

And this as well–the GW Dean basically concedes Thomas’s point.

  The interest in remaining elite and exclusive that the majority thinks so obviously critical requires the use of admissions “standards” that, in turn, create the Law School’s “need” to discriminate on the basis of race. The Court validates these admissions standards by concluding that alternatives that would require “a dramatic sacrifice of … the academic quality of all admitted students,” ante, at 27, need not be considered before racial discrimination can be employed.6 In the majority’s view, such methods are not required by the “narrow tailoring” prong of strict scrutiny because that inquiry demands, in this context, that any race-neutral alternative work “ ‘about as well.’ ” Ante, at 26—27 (quoting Wygant, 476 U.S., at 280, n. 6). The majority errs, however, because race-neutral alternatives must only be “workable,” ante, at 27, and do “about as well” in vindicating the compelling state interest. The Court never explicitly holds that the Law School’s desire to retain the status quo in “academic selectivity” is itself a compelling state interest, and, as I have demonstrated, it is not. See Part III—B, supra. Therefore, the Law School should be forced to choose between its classroom aesthetic and its exclusionary admissions system–it cannot have it both ways.

    With the adoption of different admissions methods, such as accepting all students who meet minimum qualifications, see Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 13—14, the Law School could achieve its vision of the racially aesthetic student body without the use of racial discrimination. The Law School concedes this, but the Court holds, implicitly and under the guise of narrow tailoring, that the Law School has a compelling state interest in doing what it wants to do. I cannot agree. First, under strict scrutiny, the Law School’s assessment of the benefits of racial discrimination and devotion to the admissions status quo are not entitled to any sort of deference, grounded in the First Amendment or anywhere else. Second, even if its “academic selectivity” must be maintained at all costs along with racial discrimination, the Court ignores the fact that other top law schools have succeeded in meeting their aesthetic demands without racial discrimination.

CT is exactly right. Every time I teach Grutter, I always have several students (some who were accepted to UT Austin through the Top 10% plan, which itself is race conscious) argue that SAT is a bad indicator of academic performance, and it should be scrapped.

GW has now scrapped it, and may experience an increase in the minority applicants.

Totally aside from the constitutional issue, how does this affect U.S. News rankings? If a student doesn’t have an SAT score to report, then it can’t possibly factor in the school’s median SAT numbers for purposes of rankings. They still have a GPA though, so that factors in.