WKU sees rise in freshman enrollment

Tim Caboni smiles as he receives a WKU Board of Regents’ pin after being officially sworn in as president on Friday, July 28, 2017, in the mass media and technology hall. (Austin Anthony / photo@bgdailynews.com)

One year after announcing it would ditch standardized test scores as a factor in the award of most academic merit-based and targeted scholarships for incoming freshmen, Western Kentucky University is weighing whether to do the same for admissions.

“We wanted to reward four years of success instead of one day of testing,” WKU President Timothy Caboni said Friday in a call with reporters. “We know there are challenges around standardized tests, and when you think about WKU as an institution of opportunity and of access, we want to remove barriers to access. …

“While testing can tell you some portion of a student’s capability and capacity, the (grade-point average) in high school is the best predictor of college success,” Caboni said. “And so if that’s the case, we think we should use that more than other metrics.”

Further, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the use of the metric for admissions, Caboni said.

Ethan Logan, WKU’s vice president for enrollment and student experience, made the case for a test-optional proposal Friday during WKU’s third quarterly Board of Regents meeting.

“There’s a number of schools, both public and independent, across the country who are changing their ideas” about tests in light of the pandemic, Logan said.

“We’ve already taken the step of de-emphasizing the role of standardized testing for scholarship qualification. The compelling argument here is that there’s been significant and complicated challenges in testing access for students during the pandemic outbreak,” Logan said, pointing to canceled tests and limited access to test prep that isn’t facilitated online.

But Logan also said the university should consider becoming a test-optional school for admissions on a more permanent basis.

“High school GPA is a better predictor of student success. The challenge with that is that GPA is variable … nonetheless, that overall GPA is a successful indicator that outperforms standardized test scores. There’s an opportunity to increase accessibility without sacrificing academic success,” Logan said.

Under the test-optional proposal as it was presented at the meeting, standardized test scores won’t be an admissions factor for any applying student with an unweighted high school GPA of 2.5 or greater.

Students with less than a 2.5 GPA will be required to submit ACT or SAT scores. Students possessing GPAs below 2.0 will be still considered for admission, on the condition they can demonstrate college readiness.

The proposal is being vetted by WKU’s provost and Faculty Senate, Caboni said, adding the university will likely reach a decision in the near future.

“We have to come to some decision within the next several weeks,” Caboni said.

Also during Friday’s Board of Regents meeting, Logan shared admissions and enrollment data that he described as tentative but encouraging for WKU this fall, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The concerns that we were hearing as late as a month ago was that this is all contrived and that there may not be anybody who shows up this fall because of the pandemic,” Logan said, describing the university’s current enrollment challenge.

“We’re showing and tracking great participation and interest in terms of orientation and registration, but would that hold true?”

Logan pointed to a gradual decline in the number of student withdrawals over the summer in recent years, and the fact that the trend is continuing this summer, as an encouraging sign for the fall.

“That bolsters some confidence in the fact that this is not just a presumption that people are just signing up but may not show up. This gives me great confidence that students are signing up and will show up,” he said.

That includes a projected growth in this year’s freshman class, rising to 3,170 from 2,695 in 2019.

Between both undergraduate and graduate students, the university’s enrollment figures for the fall rest at 14,334 compared to last year’s 14,395. That figure does not include high school students who are pursuing college credit through the university.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.