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NACAC Pulse Report Provides Fall 2021 College Re-Opening Data

By Keith Lawrence

The association’s Pulse Report on College Admission includes data on member institutions’ fall 2021 re-opening plans and COVID-19 vaccine requirements, as well as test-optional and test-blind admission policies for the fall 2022 admission cycle.

While a vast majority of colleges and universities plan to return to all in-person classes this fall, more than half have not yet decided whether to require returning students to get a COVID vaccine, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found in a recent survey of its membership.

More than 450 institutions worldwide responded to questions about plans for fall 2021 in-person classes, vaccination requirements, and admission criteria for the Class of 2022. The survey’s findings included:

  • 78 percent plan to resume all in-person classes in fall 2021, while 19 percent are planning a mix of in-person and online classes, and 3 percent say they have not yet decided.

  • 55 percent say they have not yet decided whether to require students to get a COVID vaccine to return to in-person programs, while 33 percent say they won’t require one, and 12 percent say they will.

In addition, 84 percent of responding colleges and universities will be either test-optional or test-blind for the fall 2022 admission cycle, which means they will not require students to submit SAT, ACT, or other standardized test scores as part of their college applications. NACAC CEO Angel B. Pérez has previously advocated for careful scrutiny of standardized testing and the benefits of moving toward a test-optional approach to admission.

The full results of the membership survey are included in NACAC’s “Pulse on College Admission Report” (nacacnet.org/pulse), created to make it easier for students, families, high school counselors, and others to track colleges’ plans for summer and fall 2021, as well as the fall 2022 admission cycle, said Melissa E. Clinedinst, NACAC’s director of research and grants. NACAC previously released its Fall 2021 College Openings Update that points out the many schools still accepting applications and offering financial aid beyond the traditional May 1 deadline.

Clinedinst said she isn’t surprised that more than three-quarters of responding schools plan to resume in-person classes in the fall, as it mirrors what is happening in the rest of society as more people get vaccinated and infection rates drop.

She also is not surprised that more than half of the colleges are taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to require their students to be vaccinated. “There’s a difference between encouraging and requiring a vaccine,” said Clinedinst. “If you do require a vaccine, how do you confirm whether students have been vaccinated? Do you do it on the honor system or require proof?”

Institutions are also weighing the impact that these decisions could have on their campuses, said Clinedinst: “There is also the question of what is the culture of our campus, how will this go over with our student body?”

Clinedinst said she is interested to see whether schools will continue to use a test-optional admissions process or revert to their pre-pandemic practice. “Having two incoming classes in a row being test-optional will give colleges some data to assess whether or not to continue,” she said. “My guess is that many will decide to continue as test-optional.”

She added that she found it interesting that a majority of the test-optional schools did not ask for additional materials—like essays or recommendations—from applicants: “Colleges must still be confident they can make an assessment without asking for anything extra.”

Both public and private postsecondary institutions are included in the Pulse Report, which will be updated in real time as NACAC receives new information from colleges and universities.

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