Every public high school junior in Billings — and across the state — took the ACT college entrance exam Wednesday free of charge.
Normally, students pay a fee ranging from $45 and $97 to take the test. However, offering the ACT at no cost opens doors to students who might not otherwise consider college.
“This gives every student the opportunity to know, ‘Hey, I could go to college,’ ” said Deb Black, principal at Skyview High School.
Most accredited colleges and universities require students take either the ACT or SAT entrance exams to be considered for admission. Offering it free to all juniors removes one more barrier to getting underachieving or poor students to consider college as a viable option, Black said.
Some students will take it and surprise themselves at how well they did, Black said.
“All of a sudden these doors are open,” she said.
The test is offered free through a $28 million GEAR UP grant given to the state Office of Public Instruction two years ago.
GEAR UP stands for the Gain Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program and is part of the state’s Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
For the first year of the grant, OPI piloted the program in 51 schools to see how it would do. State educators deemed it successful and rolled out the
program statewide the next year.
As Black watched the juniors at Skyview file into their classrooms Wednesday morning to take the test, she was impressed — and only a little surprised — that nearly all of them had come prepared with the right pencils and photo IDs.
“They were ready,” she said.
Officials with School District 2 acknowledge that college isn’t for all students. But they point out that Billings has a two-year trade school and community college along with the more traditional four-year universities like Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University Billings.
The two-year schools offer a wide range of programs and can accommodate a wider range of students. Those options are important, said Superintendent Terry Bouck. To stay competitive these days, high school graduates must go onto some kind of post-secondary education.
Black agrees and was pleased to see her juniors take the test seriously.
“It’s been very quite and very smooth today,” she said.