Baylor Offers Frosh Financial Incentives To Retake the SAT

Georgia Green, a music education professor at Baylor University in Waco, Tex., said she did not believe it when a colleague told her in June that Baylor was offering incoming freshmen financial incentives to retake the SAT.

“I said, ‘That can’t be right; that’s just impossible,’” recalled Dr. Green, who has taught at Baylor for more than 20 years and is chairwoman of the Faculty Senate.

The report turned out to be true, and late Tuesday, Dr. Green and her colleagues in the Faculty Senate passed a motion criticizing the effort. Baylor had offered incoming freshmen a $300 credit at the campus bookstore to retake the SAT. Students who raised their scores by 50 points or more received $1,000 a year in merit scholarship aid.

“This practice is academically dishonest and should be discontinued,” the motion read.

Dr. Green said that after she first heard about the plan, she approached Baylor’s president, John M. Lilley, at a meeting. “I said, ‘I just heard the most bizarre thing; someone told me we’re paying freshmen to retake the SAT.’ He said, ‘I don’t know anything, but I’ll check into it.’”

The next day, Dr. Green said, she received a call from Baylor’s vice president for finance, Reagan Ramsower. “He said, ‘Dr. Lilley tells me you’re concerned about this SAT thing,’” she said. Dr. Green said she challenged Dr. Ramsower to explain the move.

According to Dr. Green, Dr. Ramsower said that a group of people in admissions had brought the idea to him, and that he had signed off on it.

Dr. Green said: “He said, ‘It’s a win-win: the scores go up; the kids get money.’ I said, ‘I hope you’re prepared to get a lot of criticism from the faculty.’ He just didn’t think it was a big deal.”

Her concerns were soon eclipsed by a larger and more public issue: Dr. Lilley, the president, was dismissed in July after two years in office, amid faculty concerns about his refusal to grant tenure to several candidates who had been recommended by colleagues.

Baylor is a 14,000-student private Baptist university, and faculty members said Wednesday that the incentives were at odds with its strong commitment to academic integrity.

In the university’s widely publicized 10-year strategic plan, called Baylor 2012, officials laid out their goals of deepening their “distinctive Christian mission” while entering the top tier of national rankings.

While a university spokesman, John Barry, has said the decision to offer freshmen financial incentives to retake the SAT was primarily driven by a desire to distribute additional merit aid, Dr. Green and other faculty members expressed skepticism.

Robert C. Cloud, a professor of higher education, said, “I do think there was an underlying motivation to increase the average SAT scores and therefore then improve our position with regard to the rankings.”

Mr. Barry said Wednesday that the interim president, David Garland, was interested in learning about the Faculty Senate’s concerns and expected to meet with Dr. Green soon.

Philip A. Ballinger, the director of admissions at the University of Washington in Seattle, was among the college admissions officials who were on a panel that spent a year drafting a study on the uses, and possible misuses, of the SAT and ACT in college admissions for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The study urged colleges, universities and other institutions to re-examine their use of the tests in admissions and in the awarding of merit aid.

In more than 20 years in college admissions, Dr. Ballinger said, he had never heard of an institution using the SAT the way Baylor did.

“I’m just astounded that rankings would drive policy to such an extent,” Dr. Ballinger said.

“It’s just rotten all around,” he said. “The general context for this whole thing is that it’s simply a misuse of the test. But also it just separates this whole thing from the educational mission of a university. It’s just like all of a sudden people removed their brains and went to Mars.”