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Thursday, October 16, 2008

What can money buy?

Fame, prestige, envy? It seems the administration at Baylor University might think money will buy all three:

Baylor Rewards Freshmen Who Retake SAT (The New York Times)
In an effort to rise higher in the national college rankings, Baylor University offered freshmen a $300 campus bookstore credit to retake the SAT, and $1,000 a year in merit scholarship aid for those who raised their scores by at least 50 points.

I am not sure if money will necessarily increase a student's performance on the SAT, but I will keep it in mind when my children take the exam in 12-16 years.

More from the NYT here

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I don't find anything unethical with this policy. I think the test-huggers are just mad that Baylor demonstrated that the same student can get a radically different score if he or she is given the right set of incentives. However, I disagree with the strategy.

This may have worked for the short term, but I think this strategy would be counterproductive in the long-term. Most students will just take the $300 and fail to improve their score. Students who significantly improve their score are likely to transfer away from Baylor after completing a semester or two. If Baylor keeps this policy for a number of years, students who meet the bare minimum admission requirement will be attracted to Baylor because they seek a scholarship for improving their score by 50 points.

This policy seems to benefit lower scorers more than higher scorers. It is much easier to move from 1150 to 1200 than from 1550 to 1600. Those students with scores 1560+ seem to have little incentive to do well on their retake.

If Baylor wants to improve their ranking, they should expand their pre-med, biology, and chemistry programs that surely feed into their well-known medical school. I suspect that they turn away higher SAT scores from biology students than they accept in their liberal arts school.

Of course, the traditional way of increasing average test scores is to raise admissions standards and increase scholarship amounts.
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