Standardized tests have long been part of the college admissions process, and they were something else thrown into chaos by the pandemic. Many students seeking to take the SAT or ACT found their local facilities closed or faced long trips to take them elsewhere. Others had their tests postponed again and again. On top of the general nervousness over the pandemic’s impact on family members, income and daily life, there was further worry about how a late or missing test score would affect their college future.
This is why Eastern Kentucky University is waiving its standardized test score requirement not just for admissions, but also for the merit scholarships which have made college a reality for countless students throughout the Commonwealth. The initiatives are part of the wide-ranging EKU Advantage program, which aims to make the college process more streamlined and affordable at a time when many new and current students are facing extraordinary financial pressures due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We recognize that over the last year or so, it’s been a challenge for students to sit for the usual SAT and ACT exams,” says Elizabeth Ballou, EKU’s assistant vice president for enrollment management. “And even if they are able to find a site that’s open, or are able to take those tests, there’s just been an additional layer of stress and anxiety that seems to be there. We wanted to make sure that we recognize that and the fact that really, the GPA is a better indicator of the student's academic performance, and we want to reward them for that.”
While test scores can still be used for placement in English, math and science courses, the determining factor for admission is now an unweighted high school grade-point average of 2.0 or higher. Merit scholarships, which can range from $1,000 annually up to the full in-state tuition amount, are now based on a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher for nearly all awards. The change will be in effect for students entering for the Fall 2021 semester.
‘Any little bit helps’
“We recognize these are sort of uncharted territories that we're all working through together,” Ballou says. “Families appreciate the additional support and flexibility that we’ve given our students and are really excited about the opportunities we have currently available. We have students who would not have been eligible for a merit scholarship in the past who will now be getting some additional dollars toward the cost of attendance at EKU.”
The change in scholarship requirement comes on the heels of the implementation of the BookSmart program, which makes textbooks and other required course materials free to undergraduate students — who are studying both in-person and online — beginning in Fall 2021. That program alone promises a significant savings, given that the College Board estimates students and their families spend more than $1,200 on books each year.
“I hear from a lot from families who feel like there's a catch, that surely this is too good to be true. But it really isn't,” Ballou says. “This program impacts our freshmen, but it impacts our current students as well. And we’re hearing from them about how excited they are to have this opportunity. Students are telling us, ‘I was really close to being maxed out on my financial aid,’ or ‘I wasn't sure where I would get the money,’ because they may have lost their job due to the pandemic or are facing additional expenses. The timing has been crucial in that respect.”
The EKU Advantage also includes a number of other initiatives, such as the waiving of admissions fees, a greater collection of online courses, pre-registration for incoming students and the ability to pay tuition with a percentage of future income. And they’re all rooted in one of EKU’s central missions: to provide opportunity for those who otherwise might not have been able to afford college or are the first in their family to seek higher education.
“Our service region is traditionally a low-income, first-generation population. So, we are always sensitive to those students' needs and the issues that they're facing both currently and long-term, and we want to make sure we're addressing those,” Ballou says. “But then we also serve a lot of students from central Kentucky, northern Kentucky, all over the state, and we’re hearing from families that especially now, any little bit helps. We're always looking at ways that we can use the resources we have available to impact the most students that we can.”
Career-oriented online programs
EKU’s pledge is evident in programs like its Colonel Commitment, a scholarship for Pell-eligible students from Kentucky with a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, and which covers the cost of tuition and fees. It’s also evident in new online course offerings like a computer science master’s degree, more options in business administration, and global supply chain management — all rooted in real-world careers in demand now.
“We really try to tie new online programs with career opportunities,” Ballou says. “We’re always assessing the marketplace in Kentucky and elsewhere for further growth opportunities there may be in that respect.”
And while EKU plans to return to a more normal campus environment for the fall — with the likelihood of some protocols like social distancing and mask-wearing perhaps in effect — the impact of the pandemic will continue to be felt economically. And the EKU Advantage will continue to adapt, meeting the most pressing needs of its students to keep them on track for graduation and beyond.
“We're always open to new ideas and looking for opportunities to innovate and help our students,” Ballou says. “I think the merit model that we've launched for this fall is a good one for sure, but we are always assessing and evaluating and making sure we’re impacting students.”
Interested in learning more about merit scholarships, the EKU Advantage, and how they might help you further your educational goals? Contact EKU at (859) 622-1000, or visit the program’s website at Advantage.EKU.Edu for further information.