MSU campus / Romney Hall

A student leads a tour past Montana Hall at MSU in this 2020 file photo.

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Schools in the Montana University System this week joined a growing national trend of ending test requirements for first-time undergraduate students.

The Board of Regents voted unanimously Thursday to approve a permanent change to the admissions policy after it instituted a one-year pause on requiring standardized test scores in April 2020 due to the pandemic.

Students can voluntary choose to submit ACT or SAT scores for other scholarships and to demonstrate math and writing skills to determine course placements. ACT scores will still be required for MUS Honors Scholarships.

Previously, ACT or SAT scores were required for undergraduate students attending one of the university system’s four-year campuses.

Montana joins other states like Colorado and Washington that announced this month they would lift their admissions tests requirement.

In the discussion on the policy during Wednesday’s board meeting, Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education staff said the move was a recognition that admissions tests can be a barrier for many students deciding to enroll in postsecondary education. The barrier was exacerbated during the pandemic with testing disruptions and financial challenges.

“It reduces barriers for students and gives them as much of a running start as possible,” said Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner of academic, research and student affairs with OCHE.

The university system will continue its partnership with the Office of Public Instruction to offer the ACT to Montana high school students for free through 2024. The Office of Public Instruction uses the ACT as part of its statewide assessments.

Regent Joyce Dombrouski asked how the university system would know if the policy change made a difference or took down those barriers for students.

Tessman said OCHE would look for a decrease in the percentage of Montana high school seniors not going to postsecondary school and an increase in the first year success rate of students using course placement methods that aren’t the ACT or SAT.

“If you’re scoring really low on this test, and you’re on the fence about whether college is for you, maybe you don’t have a lot of family or friend role models, that’s kind of a blow,” Tessman said.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said he supported the policy change.

“I think it’s an artificial barrier that’s been created, and an enterprise around it that’s been created, that offers little correlation to success,” he said. “It identifies students we already knew were going to be successful and it probably discourages those that need encouragement.”

Montana State University President Waded Cruzado also spoke in favor of the policy change, saying she wasn’t concerned about waiving the admissions test requirement.

“We know now that these exams are not a predictor of the students’ potential in the future or their future accomplishments,” she said. “… All they tell us for the most part is where does the student come from.”

Cruzado said the 40% of Montana high school seniors who graduate and don’t attend postsecondary school are likely those students who don’t do well on admissions tests.

It’s important to remember that the admissions tests will be optional, Cruzado said. If there are some students who want to take the test to qualify for program scholarships, then they can do so.

“You’re going to see a huge removal of a big barrier that starts with just placing a lot of emphasis on what a student is able to do in a few hours in a single day,” Cruzado said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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