UPDATED In moves designed to make college access easier for low-income students, the two major college-admission testing companies have announced that they’ll expand—or begin—programs to allow students to send their scores to colleges for free.
ACT Inc. announced that starting next September, students from low-income families who use fee waivers to take the ACT will be able to send their scores to 24 colleges or universities without charge.
Current ACT rules allow any students—low-income or not—to send their scores to four institutions for free. That period ends five days after they take the test. After that period, each score report costs $13.
The new policy will allow low-income students to send up to 20 additional reports, for a total of 24. There won’t be a time-period cap anymore, either; students can send the score reports any time, according to ACT spokesman Ed Colby.
Last year, about 23 percent of the students who took the ACT in 2016 used fee waivers to do it. The waiver means students don’t have to pay the $46 registration fee for the ACT without the writing section, and the $62.50 registration fee for the version of the test that includes writing.
“Students from low-income families face a series of unique challenges and barriers that can reduce their access to higher education, and sending ACT scores to the colleges they aspire to attend should not be one of them,” ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said in a statement announcing the company’s policy shift.
Within hours of ACT’s announcement, its biggest rival, the College Board, announced an expansion of its free score-report policy. It said that beginning next spring, low-income students can send free score reports to as many colleges or universities as they wish. Currently, all students get to send four free score reports, and low-income students can send an additional four free, for a total of eight.
In the graduating class of 2017, about 24 percent of the 1.8 million students who took the SAT took it with a fee waiver. The waiver covers the $46 registration cost of the SAT without the essay, and the $60 fee for the version that includes the essay.
David Coleman, the president of the College Board, said in a statement that he is proud both companies are “standing up for the students who need it the most.”
College Board officials said they had been planning the move to unlimited, free score reports for months, and had announced it to their member leadership this fall.
Researchers have found that waiving costs associated with college—if the process is simplified so it isn’t too daunting—can improve the chances that students will enroll.
The College Board also announced that low-income students can now submit the CSS Profile, an application that about 400 colleges and universities require for financial aid, for free. Currently, it costs $25 to submit the form to one school, and $16 to submit it to each additional school, and low-income students can use waivers for up to eight schools. The new policy will let them send the CSS Profile to an unlimited number of schools, College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg said.
UPDATED There’s a significant catch to the ACT’s expanded free-score-report policy that wasn’t immediately apparent when the company announced the program. It won’t apply to students who take the test for free during the school day.
Both ACT and the College Board have state and district contracts that allow—or require—all students to take the college-entrance exam for free. Those programs are growing quickly, and involve many students.
The College Board said that its expanded free-score-report policy will include any low-income student, whether they take the SAT with a fee waiver outside school hours, or during the school day, free of charge.
The ACT, however, said its new free-score-report program will not apply to students in its school-day program. Students who take the ACT during the school day don’t use fee waivers because the test is already free for them.
Because those students don’t apply for a fee waiver, company spokesman Ed Colby said, ACT doesn’t automatically know which ones are from low-income families and which aren’t. But the company is looking into the situation to see whether it can offer the additional free score reports to the “hundreds of thousands” of students who take the ACT during the school day, Colby said.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.