The ACT of Enrollment: College Enrollment Effects of State-Required College Entrance Exam Testing

Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Participation--Access/Outreach; Assessment--College Entrance Exams; Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Klasik, Daniel
Organization(s): Stanford University
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published On: 2/26/2013

For many years, states have used financial aid as a lever to increase college enrollment. While generally effective at increasing college-going rates, these policies can be expensive. With this in mind, some states and local school districts have explored non-financial policies that address enrollment challenges. This study evaluates the effect of one of these policies: a statewide requirement for schools to administer college entrance exams.

To study the effect of state college entrance exam requirements on college-going rates in Colorado, Illinois, and Maine; to evaluate whether this state policy option changes college enrollment choices.

  • Overall Enrollment: There were no notable changes in enrollment in Colorado or Illinois institutions. Maine, however, saw roughly a 10% drop in the number of students enrolled in its colleges.
  • Sector-Based Enrollment: Illinois saw a 12% increase in enrollment in its 4-year institutions.  In all three states, changes in enrollment appeared to disproportionally benefit nonpublic institutions.
  • Individual-Level Outcomes: After the enactment of statewide college entrance exam mandates, students in Colorado were more likely to go to college full-time, and Illinois students were 10% more likely to enroll in any college. No statistically significant changes were observed in Maine.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

Why would statewide administration of college entrance exams increase enrollment in private colleges?

  • Private colleges are more likely to purchase student contact information from the ACT and College Board for recruitment purposes.
  • High scores on the ACT or SAT could trigger eligibility for merit-based scholarships.  These scholarships might make nonpublic colleges a more attractive option.

How cost effective are college entrance exam requirements?

  • The relative benefit of an increased percentage of students enrolling in college more than justifies the cost of administering the ACT or SAT to all grade 11 students.
  • Even if college enrollment does not significantly increase, the requirements do have a positive, if unintended, consequence: students who are already considering college might have a better understanding of their college options and level of academic preparation by taking the ACT and SAT.

What is the solution?

  • No one policy will address all barriers to college enrollment.  However, a combination of state financial aid, statewide entrance exam administration, and other "nudges," such as filling out college applications, could provide a stronger recipe for improving college-going rates.

A copy of this article can be found at: http://edr.sagepub.com/content/42/3/151.

Research Design:
The author treats state adoption of college entrance exam requirements using a quasi-experimental method. Using a comparative, interrupted time series model, the author compares the enrollment changes in states requiring these exams to states that did not. The author accounts for many factors that could affect the validity of the comparison states through a regression analysis. A separate analysis was performed for each of the states: Colorado, Illinois, and Maine.

For statewide analysis: data on college-age students in the experimental state group (i.e., Colorado, Illinois, Maine) and in the control group (i.e., states that have not adopted a statewide policy on mandatory college entrance exam administration); For individual-level analysis: 54,385 college-enrolled students between 1994 and 2009.

Year data is from:
1988 to 2009


Data Collection and Analysis:
The study uses institutional enrollment data from the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS) and individual student-level data from the October supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS).


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