DULUTH – The University of Minnesota Duluth is dropping the SAT/ACT test requirement for admissions, part of a national trend as colleges grow increasingly competitive over a shrinking and diversifying pool of high school graduates.

The change, announced Tuesday, will start with spring and fall 2021 applicants. Students will be able to choose whether to include their test scores in their applications.

"This is not about lowering standards," said Mary Keenan, UMD's associate vice chancellor of enrollment management. "We know there are students out there we'd like to be able to admit who choose not to even attempt it."

Keenan said the change removes barriers for students who are otherwise qualified for admission and puts more emphasis on applicants' overall high school record. At other colleges that have moved to "test-optional" admissions, there has been a "greater representation of indigenous, students of color and first-generation and low-income students" who apply, Keenan said.

"We're hoping to attract not just more students overall but more students in those populations, to provide greater access," she said.

In 2019 Crookston was the first University of Minnesota campus to make the jump to test-optional admissions, starting with incoming freshman this fall. In February the University of St. Thomas dropped its test requirements as well.

This year the University of California system decided to phase out SAT and ACT testing requirements, and dozens of schools have at least temporarily paused testing requirements for new applicants after tests were canceled due to the pandemic this spring.

Keenan said UMD's admissions change will be permanent and was under consideration before COVID-19 appeared.

"It will help us in the marketplace," said Keenan, who has been closely watching the impending drop in high school graduates caused in part by lower birthrates following the last recession.

Nationwide, the number of college students is expected to peak in 2025. From there Carleton College professor Nathan Grawe has estimated a 15% drop in college students through the end of the decade.

"Anything we can do to remove barriers is a good thing," Keenan said. "Some students who assume they would not be admissible will give us a second look."