Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Next Front in the Rankings War: Paying Admitted Students to Retake the LSAT?

I previously blogged the rankings implications of the new early admission programs at Illinois and Michigan for admitting their undergrads without taking the LSAT.  Today's Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed bring news of the next front in the rankings war:  paying admitted freshmen to retake the SAT and offering large financial rewards for those whose scores go up by certain levels.

Baylor University is being called “the poster child for SAT misuse” after the student newspaper revealed an unusual practice: paying admitted freshmen to retake the SAT and offering large financial rewards for those whose scores go up by certain levels.

While the university says that its approach is designed to give out more scholarship aid, it is being denounced as a cynical attempt to boost SAT averages (which dropped for the class in which this approach is being used) to try to improve the university’s standing with U.S. News & World Report.

Here’s what happened at Baylor this year:

When the class that enrolled this fall was admitted, admissions officials noticed two things. John Barry, vice president for marketing and communications, said that that the primary thing they noticed was that numerous merit scholarships — many of which are given out based on formulas based on SAT and class rank — were not given out because students didn’t qualify. The other thing they noticed (Barry says this is a minor issue, but others disagreed) was that the SAT average was 1200, down 19 points from the previous year. Baylor, which is in the middle of a campaign to become a top national university, has been hoping for SAT movement in the opposite direction.

What to do? Barry said that the financial aid office thought that if accepted students retook the SAT, many would receive higher scores. But for most high school seniors, having survived the college admissions process and deciding where to go, taking the SAT again isn’t exactly an alluring prospect. So Baylor decided to “incentivize” the students, Barry said.

Baylor offered any admitted student a $300 book credit at the campus store just for taking the SAT again. Then if students’ scores went up by 50 points, which Barry characterized as going up “dramatically,” they would earn a scholarship of $1,000. Further, for students who had missed the cutoff levels for various merit scholarships, if their new SAT score got them over the bar, they could have that money.

Of the admitted students who decided to enroll, 861 (about 28 percent of the class) took the SAT again and earned the $300. Of those, 150 increased scores by at least 50 points, earning $1,000 each. And 177 (including many of the 150) passed over cutoff levels and thus qualified for scholarships worth a total of $450,000. (Many of those scholarships are paid over four years, not one.) Not surprisingly, Baylor’s SAT average went up by 10 points.

“Obviously the pessimistic view of this whole thing is we are paying kids to up their SAT scores and up our score in U.S. News,” Barry said. But the university takes another view, he added — that this is about helping students and upholding standards.

This rankings dodge would work for law schools, since the ABA now requires schools to report a student's highest LSAT score among multiple tests.  We'll see if any law schools will incentivize the entering Fall 2009 class to take the February 2009 LSAT.

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Tracked on Oct 15, 2008 8:35:31 PM


It's the $300 and $1000 amounts that make this look bad. If Baylor had just said the student could have the merit scholarship if they met the cutoff level and offered to pay the SAT fees, I don't think this would be much of a story.

Posted by: iamme | Oct 17, 2008 8:20:46 AM

Being as it is Academia, I'm sure their motives are as pure as the driven snow, unlike all those greedy capitalist businessmen.

Posted by: Techie | Oct 16, 2008 11:01:25 AM