Father Graham: Test Scores Not the Only Predictor of Student Success

Sep 23, 2019

This letter, written by Michael J. Graham, S.J., President of Xavier University, was originally published in the Sept. 20 issue of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Read the original article here.  


Recently, Xavier University decided to make optional the inclusion of standardized test scores from the SAT and ACT in the student application process (for all but a handful of programs, usually where licensure requirements still stipulate them). In doing so, Xavier joins a growing list of now more than 1,000 colleges and universities which have decided to allow students to choose whether to submit test scores, including Wake Forest, George Washington, the University of Chicago, and about half of the 27 American Jesuit Colleges and Universities.

To provide some context for the decision, I want to clarify that it was reached after much consideration of our Jesuit Catholic mission as a liberal arts university, our growing national footprint (60 percent of our undergraduates now come from beyond Ohio), and careful data analysis. We determined that standardized test scores are not the only predictor of a student’s potential to succeed and thrive at Xavier, because of increasing national evidence that such test scores can be socially, culturally, economically and racially biased. Like a growing number of schools, we prefer to focus on the totality of a student’s high school accomplishments—their GPA, the types of courses they are taking, the activities they are involved in, their job and volunteer service experiences in the community, etc. We want a picture of the “whole” student, which ties into our Jesuit mission of educating the “whole” person. We call it cura personalis—the care of the person—and it’s at the heart of what Jesuit schools do, here at Xavier and elsewhere.

It seems to be working. For several years now, 98 percent of our graduates have been either employed, in graduate school or the military or in a full-time service or volunteer position within six months of graduation. Another data point: this past year, 92 percent of Xavier students who applied to medical school were accepted, against a nationally reported 41 percent acceptance rate into M.D. programs. (Law school acceptance rates are likewise robust.) Xavier’s goal, however, is not just to prepare students for a job (which we do very well), but to prepare them for life, which means our graduates not only go on to fulfilling careers but also to rewarding lives that involve contributing to the greater good through service to others.

The students who choose Xavier are looking for this kind of university experience. They want the chance to learn, to serve and to achieve in a community of educators and learners who are told on Day One that we expect them to support one another toward the goal of graduation. We believe everyone who wants an education should have the same opportunity to be selected based on their high-school achievements and community participation, and not be excluded because of standardized test scores. Of course, anyone who wants to submit their scores to supplement their high-school record may do so, and their scores will be considered. I suspect that most will continue to do so. But those who don’t will not be penalized.

We believe our approach will attract some very bright applicants who might not otherwise have considered Xavier but who are looking for the kind of exceptional, holistic educational experience we offer. That has been a clear message in the early feedback we’ve received. It will also allow us to deepen our commitment to educate a diverse, inclusive and academically talented student body, which is currently about 20 percent first-generation and 21 percent students of color. We believe that diversity and inclusion of all kinds—economic, geographic, racial, ethnic, religious and much more—are essential to the learning process, and Xavier is poised to provide the education students need and want to become leaders who leave Xavier inspired to make the world a better place and have the skills to do so.

Our world is constantly changing. And we will make sure that Xavier will be there for future generations as one of the top Midwestern Comprehensive Universities (as we have been for 25 years), and ever more focused on our Jesuit Catholic mission of forming men and women for and with others.

-Michael J. Graham, S.J., President, Xavier University


Xavier University is a private university located in Cincinnati, Ohio, providing a liberal arts education in the Jesuit Catholic tradition. Founded in 1831, the University is the sixth-oldest Catholic university in the nation. It has been ranked among the top 10 master’s-level universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report for the past two decades. The Princeton Review names it one of the “Best 385 Colleges in America.”