By DONOVAN HARRELL
As Pitt’s graduate programs begin closing their application periods in the winter, many will no longer require the GRE.
The test is being phased out in multiple graduate programs at Pitt, according to a survey Nathan Urban, vice provost for Graduate Studies, conducted this fall.
So far, more than 90 graduate programs at Pitt no longer require GRE scores in their application process. This includes 43 Ph.D. programs and 56 additional programs that made the GRE optional.
The School of Medicine and the Department of Biology were among the first to drop the requirement a few years ago, Urban said. The Department of English, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and the Department of Psychology are among the recent schools to no longer require it.
This comes after the GRE has faced increased scrutiny in Pitt’s shared governance — particularly from the Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy committee.
Over the summer, the committee presented the results of a survey it conducted. In summer 2018, the committee sent a survey to more than 200 graduate programs at Pitt, asking how they implemented the GRE results in their graduate programs.
Roughly 80 programs responded, said Allyn Bove, co-chair of the EIADAC committee, and based on the survey results, 78 percent of the responding schools said they used the GRE as a requirement for admissions while 10 percent said it was “optional.”
However, the respondents also said GRE test scores were among the two lowest factors in the admissions process despite a majority of the respondents requiring it.
In addition, there’s research suggesting that the test discriminates by gender, race and socioeconomic status, Bove said. The test itself costs more than $200, and students still have application fees to pay and some will purchase study guides or tutors.
These barriers are a major downside of the test that can have lasting effects, Bove said.
“The con is a lack of diversity in the students who are actually admitted to the program,” Bove said. “I’m from the Department of Physical Therapy. I know that we definitely are not the most diverse profession in general. And I would hate to think that other programs that have similar challenges are accidentally or unintentionally doing anything to further limit the diversity within our programs or our profession.”
Representatives from some schools, such as GSPIA, have already told Urban that once they stopped requiring the GRE, they saw an increase in the number of women and African- Americans applying to their program.
Further, in late July, Urban wrote in a letter that he believes there is plenty of evidence that the test is a costly “weak” predictor of graduate student success. This was a finding that surprised him, he said.
“If it’s not doing us any good, you know, we should be very concerned about using it,” Urban said. “As an educational institution, we are making important decisions about who comes into our programs. Those are decisions that are so important that I think we know it’s our duty to be reflective and to be careful about the factors that we consider.”
And Pitt is not alone as Universities nationwide have grappled with the GRE requirement in their graduate admission processes, citing similar concerns.
An examination from Science magazine in May found that among eight disciplines at 50 top-ranked U.S. research universities, 44 percent of molecular biology Ph.D. programs stopped requiring it, and that percentage will rise to 50 percent at the end of the current application period.
Schools and departments have a lot of autonomy when it comes to graduate school requirements, Urban said. And some school representatives have told Urban that no longer requiring the GRE can complicate other decisions surrounding the school. For example, the accreditation body or a particular grant agency may request these scores to make decisions.
Some departments in the STEM field have expressed that the GRE helps admissions accurately determine a student’s level of mathematical ability.
This also reflects a trend, according to Science magazine. It found in its examination that, among the 50 schools, more than 90 percent of the chemistry, physics, geology and computer science programs still required GRE scores in 2018.
Urban said these decisions about the GRE are sending strong messages to potential graduate students.
“It’s a signal about what it is that we value, what it is that we care about, what we think is important in the students that are coming to the University,” Urban said.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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