Baldwin Wallace University is opening its doors to a more diverse student body by simplifying its admissions and financial aid processes and preparing future students through service work.
Starting next fall, the university will no longer require prospective students to submit ACT or SAT test scores for admission. Instead, the school will evaluate applicants, for both admission and financial aid, entirely by their high school GPAs.
It’s the final step toward eliminating test scores from the admissions and financial aid formulas. For the last 10 years or so, Baldwin Wallace has asked for ACT and SAT scores only from applicants with high school GPAs lower than 3.0. The school’s own research supports the new policy.
“We have found that standardized tests are not so valuable as a predictor of success in college,” says Scott Schulz, vice president for enrollment management at the university.
Meanwhile, Baldwin Wallace is partnering with youth-centered community service organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, to create scholarship funds for future college students who are active in those groups.
The result of the more-inclusive mindset is not a lowering of standards, but improved student performance. Schulz says Baldwin Wallace set a retention-rate record this fall, with 85 percent of the 2019 freshman class returning for a second year.
“Our philosophy is to find a reason to admit students, not turn them away,” Schulz says.
Tepidity toward testing
Schulz says Baldwin Wallace was one of the first universities, more than a decade ago, to make ACT and SAT tests optional for student applicants with at least a 3.0 cumulative high school GPA. The school became more focused on GPAs when it came to admission, although it still used test scores to help determine merit-based financial aid.
Then COVID-19 hit earlier this year. Many of the ACT and SAT test centers closed due to the pandemic, so Baldwin Wallace temporarily suspended the test score requirement for applicants with lower high school GPAs.
The university has decided to make that change permanent, starting in the fall of 2021. Also, it will no longer require writing samples from prospective students. GPAs will become the main factor in admissions and merit-based financial aid, unless students choose to include test scores to bolster their applications.
However, the highest GPAs aren’t necessarily better indicators than lower ones, so there is no minimum GPA required for admission.
“We look at a series of factors related to students’ grades,” Schulz says. “Did they take college prep courses or advanced-placement courses? Did their high school GPA trend upward over time? We also look at their interest in Baldwin Wallace and what they hope to achieve here.
“We don’t want students to take easier courses to qualify for admission and scholarships, and then not be prepared for college,” Schulz says. “We want to give them an incentive to challenge themselves.”
The switch to GPA-based admission and financial aid was based on research Baldwin Wallace had conducted. The research looked at how various factors were or weren’t forecasters of college success and how students performed in their first and second years.
“It was clear that high school GPAs were far more predictive than test scores,” Schulz says. “Even if you combine GPAs and tests, it wasn’t all that different than GPAs alone, so tests scores didn’t add a lot of value.”
Also, ACT and SAT tests have been shown to exclude from college those from different economic backgrounds and students of color, Schulz says. That’s because families of less-advantaged pupils can’t necessarily afford tutors to help them prepare for tests. Further, a superior court judge ruled in September that the University of California can no longer use SAT and ACT test scores when deciding who to admit because the requirement disadvantages those with disabilities.
Determining merit-based financial aid has been simplified at Baldwin Wallace. An applicant need only type their GPA into a chart on the university’s website and instantly learn how much assistance they would receive. Younger high school pupils can use the chart to decide if they want to work harder and increase their GPAs so they can qualify for more aid.
“It’s all about simplicity and certainty,” Schulz says. “It doesn’t seem in the best interest of students to make them jump through too many hoops, especially during a pandemic. We don’t want students and their families to go through that stress to determine what they can afford.”
Merit scholarships range from $12,000 to $21,000, and there is no minimum GPA to qualify.
Last year, Baldwin Wallace launched a community-based scholarship initiative designed to help children and teens build their own scholarship funds. They can start as early as ninth grade.
Participating groups, all of which assist young people, include Boy Scouts of America Lake Erie Council, Esperanza and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Pupils serving the community through these groups can earn a minimum of $13,000 a year toward a Baldwin Wallace education.
“Kids who are committed to community service are the kids who flourish at Baldwin Wallace,” Schulz says.
Baldwin Wallace also has partnered with RaiseMe, which helps students find scholarships. Through the partnership, young people build “microscholarships” worth up to $12,000 a year toward an education at Baldwin Wallace.
In addition, Baldwin Wallace is working with Say Yes to Education, which pays college tuition for graduates of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Families with incomes of $75,000 or higher qualify for $5,000 scholarships. For families earning less than $75,000, the university annually will waive tuition for five pupils, covering the difference between the tuition amount and need-based aid students receive from the federal and state governments.
Schulz says Baldwin Wallace established these programs because its home is Northeast Ohio, and it wants to play a part in the region’s success.
“We also want to incentivize people to give back through community service and have a mindset of giving back, even after they graduate from Baldwin Wallace,” Schulz says.