Test Scores, Class Rank and College Performance: Lessons for Broadening Access and Promoting Success

February 2012
With Sunny X. Niu; Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia Vol. LIII, Issue 4, Page 199-226

Using administrative data for five Texas universities that differ in selectivity, this study evaluates the relative influence of two key indicators for college success - high school class rank and standardized tests. Empirical results show that class rank is the superior predictor of college performance and that test score advantages do not insulate lower ranked students from academic underperformance. Using the UT-Austin campus as a test case, we conduct a simulation to evaluate the consequences of capping students admit- ted automatically using both achievement metrics. We find that using class rank to cap the number of students eligible for automatic admission would have roughly uniform impacts across high schools, but imposing a minimum test score threshold on all students would have highly unequal consequences by greatly reduce the admission eligibility of the highest performing students who attend poor high schools while not jeopardizing admissibility of students who attend affluent high schools. We discuss the implications of the Texas admissions experiment for higher education in Europe.