Jerry L Mennenga
Since last March, COVID-19 has rearranged many facets of life, college, and student life. Campus tours have already been upended, dorms are the only mask-free zone, and debate in general about safety is common. As we hurdle towards the 2021-2022 school year, incoming students have seen new ways of placement in college. Students are no longer able to gather to take the ACTs and SATs, and that can affect where they end up in their classes in college. At Buena Vista University, the national ‘test-optional’ has been implemented.
BVU President Brian Lenzmeier was able to offer some insight on what going test optional may mean for incoming students. “This decision has not impacted admissions at this point because for the fall of 2021 we waived the ACT/SAT requirement,” he explained. “It does impact how we place students into Mathematics classes and English, like Written Communication Classes. In the past, those placements were based on ACT scores.” Rather than looking at those scores to fit students into a program, they will be tested or asked to write a paper to find where they belong. “The academic deans have been working with faculty to develop a rubric based on high school classes taken and high school grades in English, as well as student writing experiences to place students into English. Mathematics students will go into MATH075 and will be given a placement test on day one of classes to allow them to test out of that course.”
It seems graduating high school students may be skeptical to immediately go to college because of the health risks that come with being on campus during a pandemic. Lenzmeier was able to look at and share the application rates over the last three years. As of the week of April 5, there have been 1,690 applicants. That’s one less than the total for the 2019-2020, which gained 1,691 applicants, but 400 less than 2018-2019, which pulled in 2,036. However, in terms of acceptance, 1,117 students have been accepted this year, while only 940 students were accepted last year; the year prior, 1,163, not too far from this year. Lenzmeier says, “We are ahead over a year ago but even with accepted students two years ago.” When asked if he felt that test-optional would lead to an increase in acceptances, he said, “It appears our accepted student percentage is a little higher this year. However, we’ve also denied admission to more students this year .” Lenzmeier did add that GPAs sent in from high schools are not far off from previous years, adding, “The high school GPA of our applicants is running pretty consistent with a year ago, so I don’t think the pandemic has significantly altered the academic quality.” He elaborated, “High School GPA is the best predictor of academic success at BVU.”
When asked if the pandemic has made getting into college easier or harder, Lenzmeier said, “Last fall, enrollment across the country was down 10 to 15%. We were up 2.5% overall. I don’t think the pandemic has affected BVU as much as some other schools.” He does believe, however, that larger schools have been more heavily affected. ”I think elite schools where test scores have historically been weighed much more heavily have made it harder to get into college because more and more students are applying for admission to those elite schools.”
President Lenzmeier also said that, if anything, the pandemic has scared more students not because of health reasons, but additional financial burden. Students are not able to meet one on one with their high school counselors because of the pandemic to work on the FAFSA. “Where we are seeing challenges for students in attending college — admissions decisions are not impacted by this — is completion of the FAFSA financial aid application.” Instead, BVU has implemented support to meet with students and parents to work on the FAFSA. “We are working with students and families to help them get this paperwork done, but the pandemic and uncertainty of finances is likely having a bigger impact than admissions standards.”
There has been fear that since some students are exempt from their grades being closely examined, poorly performing students will look as good as more elite students. When asked if he thought only the elite students were being affected, he implied that this was not the case at BVU. “It probably affects elite colleges, Ivy League, more than most colleges in the Midwest.” It seems BV has provided this incoming class with a great many tools and options to prepare for the year. As the pandemic begins to meet its end, it might be believable that there will not be another year so intricate for BVU admissions and financial aid ever again.