Key Findings and Recommendations

Key Finding 1: Students tend to enroll at institutions that match the preferences they report to ACT.

As illustrated in this report, regardless of ACT Composite score, ACT-tested college enrollees attend their 1st choice college at significantly higher rates than their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice colleges. As also seen in this report, students’ college type preference is a good indicator of the type of college that they eventually attend.

Student score reports sent to colleges and universities contain more than 265 data fields that can be used to assess student enrollment intentions and their level of interest in your institution. The score reports also provide information on student interests, plans, and needs, which colleges can use to personalize and target communications. In addition to this information, beginning in September 2012, ACT will append scores for five predictive modeling indexes to every student’s ACT score report sent to colleges:

  1. a Mobility Index, which predicts how likely a student is to attend college out of state.
  2. an Institution Type Index, which predicts how likely a student is to enroll at a private college or university.
  3. a Selectivity Index, which indicates how selective an institution a student is likely to attend.
  4. an Institution Size Index, which predicts the size of the institution a student is likely to attend.
  5. an Interest-Major Fit score, which indicates the extent to which the students’ personal interests fit with their planned major.

Recommendations:

  • Colleges should require official ACT score reports for admission so they have access to all the student information in this report at a time when it can make a difference in student recruitment and retention.
  • When placing ACT Educational Opportunity Service (EOS) orders, admissions personnel should use information on the students’ ACT score reports that speaks most directly to student enrollment intentions, such as their institution type preference, institution size preference, preferred distance from home to campus, and highest degree expected. ACT research suggests that these student preferences accurately describe student enrollment intentions and provide colleges with actionable data to recruit students more effectively.

Key Finding 2: Students’ testing and enrollment behaviors tend to differ by academic achievement level.

ACT enrollment research has consistently found that student academic achievement as measured by ACT scores is an important indicator of testing and enrollment behaviors. As ACT scores increase, students are more likely to test in the 11th grade, enroll in four-year institutions, enroll out of state or a greater distance from home, and attend the type of college (4-year public or 4-year private) they prefer to attend.

ACT research also suggests that students with higher ACT Composite scores make more appropriate and predictable enrollment-related decisions. For example, as ACT score increases, students are more likely to attend their 1st choice college. Moreover, students with higher scores select college majors that have a better fit with their personal interests. This higher degree of interest-major fit means that these students are more likely to stay in their major, persist in college, and finish sooner.

Recommendations:

  • Admissions personnel should use ACT score ranges to track yield rates for students at different stages of the enrollment funnel. This tracking will help colleges to better understand the differences in testing and enrollment behaviors by academic achievement level that are unique to that institution.
  • When placing EOS orders, admissions personnel should segment their search strategy by ACT score ranges to better target their recruitment efforts toward students that exhibit different testing and enrollment behaviors.
  • In general, colleges should avoid selecting the names of students whose ACT Composite scores are too high or too low (especially with out-of-state students), as these students are very unlikely to enroll.

Key Finding 3: Students’ testing and enrollment behaviors tend to vary by the ACT and SAT participation rates in the state.

Compared with students from “ACT+” and “ACT” states, ACT-tested students from “SAT+” and “SAT” states are more likely to first test in 12th grade, are less likely to send their test scores to any college when they register for the ACT, and are only slightly less likely to opt into EOS. These students are also significantly more likely to enroll out of state and to travel a greater distance from home to attend college.

Recommendations:

  • Colleges should take into consideration both the historic trends and future state policy changes that may have an impact on the ACT and SAT participation rates in their state and other states in which they recruit ACT-tested students. For example, in the 2013 graduating class, North Carolina will likely change from an “SAT” state to an “ACT” state given North Carolina’s recent policy to administer the ACT to all public high school 11th graders.
  • When placing EOS orders, admissions personnel should segment their search strategy by the ACT and SAT participation rates of states in order to better target their recruitment efforts toward students who exhibit different testing and enrollment behaviors.

Key Finding 4: Students who first take the ACT in 12th grade are a largely overlooked subset of ACT-tested high school graduates.

A considerable number of students first take the ACT in 12th grade—close to 500,000 high school graduates from the class of 2011. Although these students have somewhat lower levels of academic achievement than students who first test in 11th grade, roughly two-thirds of these students enroll in college in the fall after they graduate from high school, with the majority attending a 4-year college.

Although students who first test in 12th grade are about as likely to participate in EOS, they have a lower likelihood of being selected by any college through EOS and are selected by far fewer colleges than students who first test in 11th grade.

Recommendations:

  • When placing EOS orders, colleges should consider selecting those students who first test as 12th graders and meet their search criteria. Since few colleges currently select these ACT-tested students, there is more of an opportunity in the short term for a college to have a recruiting advantage with these students.
  • When placing EOS orders, colleges should consider selecting first-time senior testers as a part of their strategy to recruit students who are underrepresented on college campuses. Many underrepresented populations—male, first-generation, lower income, and minority students—test for the first time in 12th grade.

Key Finding 5: Many high school graduates are not prepared academically for college success.

Twenty-eight percent of the ACT-tested graduating class of 2011 did not meet any of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. This means that these students did not meet the minimum subject test scores required to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher in English Composition, College Algebra, Biology, and an introductory social science course. Many of these students will require a semester or more of remediation to help them prepare for college-level coursework, which delays their time to degree and places an additional financial burden on them. ACT research shows that students who do not meet any of the ACT Benchmarks have a lower likelihood of persisting in college and completing a degree in a timely manner.

Recommendations:

  • As states look to increase their standards, colleges should have a clear voice in conversations with K–12 and other state officials about what it takes to be prepared academically for success in college.
  • Colleges should continue to reach out to those high schools and middle schools in their service regions or states to offer academic and other support services to increase the number of students who are academically prepared to enter college.
  • College faculty should review current state standards as they relate to college readiness standards and the results of the ACT National Curriculum Survey®. Results of the ACT National Curriculum Survey provide information about what entering college students should know and be able to do to be ready for college-level coursework in English, math, reading, and science.