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U of Chicago

The University of Chicago has announced success -- without too many details -- in its campaign to reform college admissions.

Chicago announced last year that it would go test optional in admissions. It simultaneously announced a number of enhancements in its financial aid programs related to its Empower program.

  • Full tuition scholarships for students whose families earn less than $125,000.
  • Scholarships of $20,000 over four years, and a guaranteed paid summer internship, for all first-generation students.
  • Special new scholarships for veterans and the children of police officers, firefighters and veterans.

As a result of the changes, Chicago was able to admit lots of students it couldn't admit before. But the tie to any specific policy is unclear.

Nevertheless, Chicago maintains that its policies had an impact.

The number of first-generation and low-income students who committed to attend the university in the fall is up 20 percent.

The university does not release SAT average for specific classes, but said that its average increased -- as it had every year in the last 10.

The proportion of African Americans is 10 percent.

Chicago also announced that 10 to 15 percent of students in the freshman class did not submit SAT or ACT scores.

College Scorecard, a federal website on the college application process, said 50 percent of students reporting test scores from Chicago reported a score of 730 to 780 on the critical reading SAT. Similarly, the score on the SAT math was 750 to 800.

With scores like that -- far above the averages of most colleges that go SAT optional -- there is relatively little that Chicago can do to increase scores.

The federal data also revealed low shares of black and Latinx students: the numbers for Chicago were 42 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 13 percent Latinx, 6 percent two or more races and 5 percent black.

As the momentum for test-optional policies has grown, more institutions have cited Chicago, but they have generally not been at quite at the level of Chicago.

Going After Rural Students

After the progress with low-income and minority students, the university hopes to use grant funds from a trustee to focus next year, within the Empower program, on efforts for rural students.

The new effort will cover:

  • Fully funded one-week summer sessions on the Chicago campus for 30 top rural high school sophomores to experience college life and to receive guidance on preparing for college.
  • Full tuition scholarships for high school juniors from rural areas to attend a three-week Chicago summer session focused on individual academic areas of excellence and navigating the college application process.
  • Free yearly fly-in program to Chicago’s campus for high school counselors, principals and administrators from rural schools to learn about the college.
  • New merit scholarships of $5,000 a year, for four years, to rural summer program participants who enroll at Chicago.
  • Guaranteed free tuition, fees and room and meals for students from families with incomes under $60,000 and free tuition and fees for families with incomes under $125,000. In addition, the family farm is not considered an asset for financial aid purposes.

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