PSU MBA and Master of Science in Finance applications are now test-optional

After months of analyzing internal data and external research, leadership in Portland State University’s graduate business programs have decided to remove the GMAT/GRE requirement for The Portland MBA and Master of Science in Finance (MSF) for the current 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

This change was driven by a number of considerations, including barriers created by the coronavirus pandemic, racial disparities in standardized testing, and internal analysis of the correlation between standardized test performance and student success factors.

“Our admissions team has always used holistic applicant reviews to help combat inequities,” says Graduate Business Programs Executive Director Rachel Foxhoven. “Together with our academic directors, dean and associate deans, we ultimately determined that moving to a test-optional admissions process will further reduce the perpetuation of social and racial inequities found throughout the education system.”

This outcome aligns with PSU’s School of Business strategic plan.

Racial equity

Racial equity was of particular importance in the decision to move to test-optional. According to data from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), graduate management degrees are awarded disproportionately to white students both nationally and at PSU.

In addition to the disproportionate number of degrees awarded, both the GMAT and GRE show biased score outcomes across race and gender. White males on average receive higher GMAT and GRE test scores as compared to their female peers and peers who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. White GMAT test-takers scored close to 20% higher than Black and African American GMAT test-takers each year from 2015–2019.

Both the Graduate Management Admissions Council (the organization administering the GMAT) and Electronic Testing Services (the organization administering the GRE) have released statements regarding disparities in access to graduate education, attributing “group differences” in test results to social and economic factors leading up to the completion of the exams.

When considering these factors along with the well-documented cost and preparation barriers applicants experience — barriers that have been compounded by the pandemic — standardized testing inequality experienced by applicants who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color is too large to overlook.

Student success

PSU’s internal data analysis of test scores as they correlate to graduate business student success played a critical role in decision making. Data from the last four years was analyzed for a number of student success factors, including academic performance, career outcomes and retention. While the data demonstrated that graduate entrance exams have predictive value for cumulative GPA, there was no statistically significant relationship with other student success factors, including career outcomes.

These findings challenged leadership to rethink the purpose exams serve in the holistic applicant review process.

Piloting change

For 2020-2021 admissions cycle applicants with undergraduate or graduate GPAs under 3.0, submitting the GMAT or GRE exam is encouraged to strengthen the competitiveness of their applications. 

If an applicant is admitted to either the MBA or MSF program, but has not displayed sufficient academic preparation in quantitative or verbal and written communication skills, they may be asked to attend a specialized online primer course in addition to the program’s standard requirements.

“We are optimistic that a thoughtful approach to pre-program primers will prepare admitted students for success,” says Foxhoven. “Some concern remains that removal of standardized test requirements may give applicants a false impression of the rigor of PSU’s programs.”

Student success data from the 2021-2022 academic year will be analyzed to determine the impact of test-optional admissions criteria moving forward.

The School of Business strives to support equity in admissions and an inclusive space where diverse perspectives and backgrounds are embraced. Testing requirements are one part of a larger commitment to remove barriers and improve access. This is the second year that the $67 application fee has been waived for graduate business master’s programs, and the admissions team is currently preparing more detailed information about the application review process to share with applicants to help enhance their preparedness.

For applicants who have questions about the new test-optional policy, the graduate business programs team encourages them to schedule an advising appointment directly with the admissions advising team.

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