Student Aid Policy Analysis Papers
Student Aid Policy

Admissions Tests Discriminate Against College Admission of Minority and Low-Income Students at Selective Colleges

Mark Kantrowitz, Admissions Tests Discriminate Against College Admission of Minority and Low-Income Students at Selective Colleges May 21, 2021

Download the Admissions Tests Discriminate Against College Admission of Minority and Low-Income Students at Selective Colleges paper in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.

Executive Summary

SAT and ACT admission test scores follow a normal distribution, also known as a Bell Curve. Artifacts of a normal distribution contribute to discrimination against minority and low-income students in college admission at the most selective colleges and universities.

In particular, shifting the location of the bell curve due to changes in average combined SAT test scores magnifies differences at the extremes much more so than differences at the mean. Skew in the distribution can yield a similar effect. These problems are more likely to occur at two or more standard deviations beyond the mean, such as when the combined SAT test scores are 1400 or more and ACT test scores are 31 or more.

This means that small differences in average SAT and ACT test scores among any two student populations will lead to big differences in the percentage of students with high test scores among those populations, yielding big differences in college admissions rates at the most selective colleges.

The papere starts with a discussion of the theoretical background to illustrate the nature of the problem, and then follows with real data that demonstrates that the actual magnitude of the problem is consistent with the theoretical analysis.

This paper not only demonstrates that the SAT and ACT tests contribute to discrimination against the college admission of minority and low-income students at selective colleges, but also articulates the mechanism through which this discrimination occurs.

This paper presents several key findings.

  • Male students are 42% more likely to have combined SAT test scores in the 1400 to 1600 range than female students.
  • White students are three times more likely than Black or African-American students and twice as likely as Hispanic or Latino students to have combined SAT test scores of 1400 to 1600.
  • Students with family income of $100,000 or more are more than twice as likely as students with a family income under $50,000 to have combined SAT test scores of 1400 to 1600.

These results may have a significant impact on college admissions of minority and low-income students at more than 280 selective colleges, especially at the 24 colleges with 25th percentile combined SAT test scores of 1400 to 1600.

Possible solutions include:

  • Colleges could stop using the SAT and ACT admissions tests.
  • An adjustment could be added to SAT and ACT test scores of female, minority and low-income students.
  • The funding of public-school systems could be based on a statewide per capita basis instead of local taxes