It is difficult to calculate the degree to which score fees prevent low-income students from going to a school that is a good fit, but a recently published paper by the University of Pittsburgh’s Lindsay Page and several other researchers, including one from the College Board, shows several positive effects of the “anytime” option. After the option was implemented in 2007, data suggest, students who would’ve otherwise only sent four scores were now sending eight. In other words, before the change, there was a cohort of students who wanted to apply more widely but had been held back by the cost. Perhaps most tellingly, the study showed that the policy change correlated with greater college-completion rates among the same cohort, potentially because applying to more schools meant they found a better institutional fit.
For those who don’t pay, the College Board at least covers the cost of sending four scores for students who are eligible. ACT, which is the test of choice in poor states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, does little to alleviate that cost for low-income students.
Asked to comment, the College Board and ACT both explained that the fees for sending scores cover a range of costs, including those required for schools that still require paper printouts of their applicants’ scores. Generally speaking, it costs the testing companies almost no money to send official scores to colleges but the fees help defray other costs associated with the development and administration of the exams. As a result, giving low-income students more free score sends would almost certainly mean that the cost of the exam would increase.
But Marie Bigham, a high-school counselor in New Orleans and one of the founders of ACCEPT, an organization of college-admission professionals dedicated to increasing equity in college admissions, doesn’t think that solution goes far enough to solve the problem. Waivers require extra work on the part of counselors and students. The College Board and ACT, she pointed out, could reverse policy with a change in leadership or attitude.
Bigham thinks the simplest and best answer is for schools to accept self-reported test scores, which can then be confirmed once the student has been accepted. After all, score-send fees end up being a waste of money in every case but one—the one school a student attends—so why not let students just send the one that matters?
Self-reporting also simplifies the system for students and college admissions offices. A 2009 study of college freshmen found that their self-reported and official SAT scores matched 80 percent of the time—and this was in a scenario when the students didn’t face any penalties if they provided inaccurate information.
A few colleges, including the University of Chicago, the University of Iowa, and Texas Christian University, have already started accepting self-reported test scores; none had instances last year of students falsely reporting.