Dropping Admissions Tests: CalTech

Note: This is an expansion of my tweet storm.

It’s one thing when Janet Napolitano grabs the first opportunity to dump the SAT. The UC system has been desperately trying to rid itself of the restrictions imposed by California’s 1997 affirmative action ban for two decades: declaring a ban on the SAT unless the College Board redesigned it and made everyone else pay, focusing more on the subject tests, then banning them, requiring the essay then banning it. So naturally a pandemic that prevented large gatherings would be seized upon to get rid of it entirely.

(By the way, I put the odds of the UC developing its own test at exactly zero. Any legitimate test would have the same racial imbalances as the existing tests–without the ability to blame the failings on the College Board. They can’t use the state test, known as the SBAC, because it, too, has the same achievement gaps as the SAT. Moreover, if they used the state test, out of state applicants would have to take another test, probably the SAT/ACT. A test they could take multiple times, while California applicants can only take the SBAC once–a disparity that won’t survive a lawsuit. A UC-only test would increase the burden for all California students who wanted to apply elsewhere, and any out of state students applying to UC–how likely is that? No, they’re hoping they can maintain standards without the test, or they will reinstate it in a couple years regretfully, giving a bullshit reason. End digression.)

But then I learned that back in January, California Institute of Technology ended its Subject test requirement and a few days ago went SAT/ACT test blind.


Caltech has long been celebrated by affirmative action opponents for its refusal to bow down to diversity admissions policies–evidenced by the growth of its admitted Asian undergraduates.

But that is, in part, because Caltech isn’t harassed by lawsuits or hauled up by the media as an example of the evils of using meritocracy. The university has always been deemed too small for diversity shills to bother with.

So whatever reason Caltech had for dumping tests, I don’t think it came about because of public pressure. The most recent announcement didn’t make even a ripple: no media gloating, no aforementioned diversity shills gloating about the change.  I follow this sort of news closely and only heard about it by accident a couple days ago.

Not knowing anything about Caltech’s internal politics, I began with the two most obvious candidates: a change in leadership or a decline in rankings. Leadership has been unchanged since 2013, and Rosenbaum was no apologist for his school’s admissions policy.

Change in rankings, on the other hand, was plausible. I remember it being ranked #1 in 1999, when a change in the USNWR team made the rankings less concerned about reflecting public opinion. Now it’s at 12. But does Caltech seem like a school that would care? This analysis argues that perhaps the change was made to attract more international students. Maybe. Again, I don’t know all the internal politics.

But what the hell, I didn’t become Ed Realist to hem and haw about significant college admissions decisions. Let’s go straight to the demographics, which offer a real surprise or, as I said on Twitter “holy shit.  Loak at Asian, white, and Hispanic changes over the past two years.”

These two graphs show the same data, just in different forms. The first shows the percentages of Asians, whites, Hispanics, blacks, and International students.

Note: I don’t do regressions or….p values or whatever the hell they’re called. (kind of kidding, I usually can dredge up what they’re called and what they do.). This is just a very simple graphic representation of first year admissions data, skippibng Native Americans and 2 races.


The second shows the same data but in linear form and raw numbers instead of percentages. I thought both of them were useful, pick the one you like best.


I only included the bottom two lines, black and international, because otherwise people would wonder why I’d left them off. The big news is in the top three.

I found 1996 data in a Caltech newspaper article; it matches 2000 data pretty well.

My first thought, before collecting the data,  was that Caltech was using the pandemic to maybe get fewer Asians. But it turns out they’ve cracked that nut in many ways. Asians, whites, and Hispanics are at close to parity. (38, 22 and 29 percent).

The graph below uses 2002 as a benchmark, showing increase and decrease Using tests, supposedly with pure meritocracy, they’ve cut white admissions in half from 2002, and returned Asians back to their 2002 numbers. Before now, I’d have bet that reducing Asian percentages was a near impossibility. But Caltech has done more than that.


I have no point other than wow, take a look at this. A top ranked university chopped its Asian admissions in half without really increasing the international student population. Is that normal?  Since the school managed this without ending the SAT or Subject test requirement, why end them now? What explains this? I’ve rummaged around looking for CalTech specific explanations, but haven’t found anything. I’m wondering now if I’ve missed a trend in college admissions demographics.

Of course, go back up a chart or two and look at the yellow. African Americans are practically  non-existent at CalTech. I suspect the most common explanation provided is correct: blacks who have the chops to go to CalTech are offered massive sums to go to higher-ranked schools.

Still, looking at the flat line for African Americans, it’s hard not to wonder, for the umpteenth time why Black Lives Matter isn’t pulling down the Statue of Liberty for its pro-immigration propaganda.

About educationrealist

5 responses to “Dropping Admissions Tests: CalTech

  • Rohan Verghese

    What about taking their stated reasons at face value? For the Subject Tests, they say that not enough students are taking them. Could be entirely true, especially if they’ve been observing a decline in the percentage of students taking those tests.

    For the general test, it’s a 2-year moratorium. Maybe that’s entirely driven by COVID and the lockdowns, etc.

  • Former Caltech Undergrad

    No numerical analysis to add but I graduated from Caltech in 2018 so some brief thoughts: 2016-2017 really did feel like the year that Caltech’s relatively new Diversity Center was kicking off in terms of influence. I knew some of the Hispanic students of my class and they formed a strong bond with eachother and the center staff starting with matriculation back in 2014 – and while they showed the open disdain of admission stats that you might expect, as undergrads they were typically way too busy to engage in any potential “politicking.” At the same time (probably fueled by the election), there was a swell of involvement from Hispanic and international graduate students so *maybe* that contributed behind-the-scenes to the sudden post-2017 jump. (You certainly heard some of the students who volunteered in the admissions office talking more and more about diversity numbers).

  • Dennis Ashendorf

    UCalifornia is 37% Asian, 34 % Hispanic, 22% White in 2020 admissions.

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