The Effects of Mandatory and Free College Admission Testing on College Enrollment and Completion

Link to Full Working Paper

Between the years 2001 and 2015, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia implemented a policy providing mandatory and free college admission exams (ACT or SAT) to all public high school juniors. As such, the policy reduced to zero out of pocket expenses for exam fees, and likely reduced out-of-pocket expenses for exam preparation, because schools might have been induced to provide such a service in-house.
The policy also reduced the time cost of test taking because the test is administered during class time and at a student’s school. Because the mandatory exam is administered during the junior year, the policy may also have increased the amount of information a student has about her college prospects earlier on in her decision making process. In this paper I hypothesize that the decreased costs and increased information may induce more students to apply to and enroll in college. I use both college-level longitudinal data (IPEDS) along with cross-sectional student-level data (ACS) to test these predictions. Specifically, I exploit the fact that not all states implemented the policy and that those which did so implemented the policy at different points in time. In the college-level analysis, I find that the average college saw an increase in about 88 enrolled students and 460 applications from the policy without any effect on their graduation rates. In the individual-level analysis, I find that treated individuals have approximately 1.03 times the odds of untreated individuals of attending college. In the appendix I propose a model for the decision to apply, enroll, and complete college.


When “percent treated” represents the percent of students taking a free and mandatory ACT or SAT, we see clearly that the average applications to college and average enrollment in college increases:



Statistically significantly, the average number of applicants and enrolled students increased, while the graduation rate was not effected. This tells us that offering a free and mandatory ACT or SAT increases the number of students applying to and enrolling in college without harming their chances of graduating from college.


The “intensity of treatment” row can be read that if  a college had 100% of its freshman class come from a “treated state”, i.e. a state that offered a free and mandatory ACT or SAT, the average number of applicants would increase by 2,378 an the average number of enrolled students would increase by 443. Since the typical college did not have a freshman class come entirely from a “treated state”, the average treatment row lists what the typical college experienced: an increase in 475 applicants and 88 enrolled freshmen.

Other studies have shown very similar results, such a study analyzing the effect of the free SAT in Maine, the effect of the free ACT in Colorado and Illinois, the effect of the free ACT/SAT in the first five states it was implemented in, and looking into the effect of the free ACT in Michigan. The research is clear: offering a free and mandatory college entrance exam to all students is beneficial.

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