One of the most universally persistent challenges in education today is ensuring that access to college is equitable and within reach for all students.
In my home state of Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo is tackling it head on. She proposed that all Rhode Island public school students have the opportunity to take the PSAT and SAT for free and she has set aside $500,000 in her annual budget to make it happen. She sees it as a needed leveler that will encourage students to attend college.
If lawmakers approve the plan, Rhode Island will join Connecticut and New York City in having government pay for these exams.
The True Cost
While critics worry about the cost of the plan, I worry about the cost of not doing it.
As the press release from the office of the governor says:
Research shows that SAT school day administration results in higher college-going rates, particularly among first-generation students. Experts predict that by 2020, 71 percent of jobs in Rhode Island will require some form of post-secondary education.
Today, only about 44 percent of Rhode Islanders have a post-secondary degree or credential. That has to change.
At the time of Raimondo’s announcement (which took place in a pre-calculus classroom in Smithfield, where she was meeting with students), she indicated that fewer than 60 percent of Rhode Island public school students took the SAT during the 2014-15 school year; about 38 percent took the PSAT. She went on:
This is about leveling the playing field and increasing access to opportunities to help Rhode Island’s kids succeed. Providing these tests for free is about equity—this ensures that all students, regardless of economic circumstances, can use these tests to consider higher education opportunities.
We need more students to be college- and career-ready. The SAT and PSAT set an appropriately high standard and are good tools to help close our skills gap.
Raimondo also indicated that students will be able to take the exams during school rather than on the weekend, another important equalizer in a college admissions process that can feel foreign and overwhelming to many families, despite their unwavering desire that their child go on to college after high school. While some parents and caregivers are familiar and comfortable with the process, others don’t even know where to begin.
This initiative is a big first step in mitigating wide disparities when it comes to students’ access to these entrance exams that continue to serve as gate-keepers at the vast majority of colleges and universities nationwide.
Unlike other states offering access by swapping in college entrance exams for annual state exams like PARCC and SBAC, Raimondo’s proposal will have no impact on the state’s upcoming PARCC exams. Her decision to offer free access to the PSAT and SAT tests is about encouraging students to apply to college and, at least for the time being, will have no implications for annual state testing.
Ken Wagner, Rhode Island’s education commissioner, had this to say about the plan:
Students who take the SAT exams are engaged in thinking about postsecondary education. Providing our students with the opportunity to take this assessment at no cost will encourage more Rhode Islanders to recognize that they can pursue a pathway that could lead them to post-secondary education and to a challenging career.
The Raimondo administration’s plan to pay for college entrance exams for students is a quintessential example of bold leadership that matters, leadership that honors kids’ dreams and takes a big step toward getting them on a path to higher education.
Bravo, Madam Governor. Bravo.