Sep 29, 2015

80 colleges unite to form revolutionary new college application—access or marketing?

Yale University has been very involved in forming the new "Coalition"

Eighty big-name colleges and universities announced yesterday a plan to turn the college admissions industry on its head by the creation of a plan by which colleges will court applicants via an extended application process beginning as early as ninth grade.

The new group, called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, has been quietly working behind the scenes to devise a new approach to applying to college that will suit their individual institutional needs while capitalizing on shared resources and common interests.  They’ve contracted with CollegeNet to develop a platform of college planning tools, including a new application and a glitzy new website. 

Members of the Coalition include a diverse group of public universities that “have affordable tuition along with need-based financial aid for in-state residents, and private colleges and universities that provide sufficient financial aid to meet the full, demonstrated financial need of every domestic student they admit.”  According to a press release from the Coalition, member schools graduate at least 70 percent of their students within six years with many having significantly higher graduation rates.

“Coalition schools offer students incredible choice in location, size, selectivity, and mission, but we all share a commitment that students we admit can afford to attend and will have a high likelihood of graduating,” said James G. Nondorf, vice president for enrollment at the University of Chicago.

In a nutshell, the Coalition is developing a free platform of online college planning and application tools.  The tools will include a digital portfolio, a collaboration platform, and an application portal. 

High school students would be encouraged to add to their online portfolios beginning in the ninth grade examples of their best work, short essays, descriptions of extracurricular activities, videos, etc.  Students could opt to share or not share all or part of their portfolios with college admissions or counseling staff and “community mentors.”  Note that a similar platform currently exists on the ZeeMee website, which is already used by a handful of colleges to provide portfolio-building services and link to applications.

In addition, the Coalition plans to introduce a new online application system that will be a “cutting-edge tool for applying to many schools in the Coalition.”  According to the coalition website, the application has been designed “to minimize student stress, confusion, and intimidation while empowering universities to ask questions that will reveal students with the greatest fit for their campuses” 

It’s unquestionably an ambitious plan. And its success appears dependent on the support of some heavy hitters in the admissions industry, who are forming a somewhat exclusive club.

Members include every Ivy League university, a handful of selective liberal arts colleges, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the “public ivy” group including UVa, Chapel Hill and Michigan, as well as several highly-visible public institutions that previously shied away from Common App membership including Indiana University, Pitt, the University of Maryland College Park, James Madison University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Washington (some already CollegeNet users).

And how much will the competition hurt the Common Application?  Inside Higher Ed reports that coalition members plan to offer but not require the coalition application and expect to continue having a majority of applicants apply through the Common App—at least for the time being.

According to the coalition website, the online portfolio of college planning tools will be open to high school students starting in January 2016.  Those colleges opting to accept applications through the site will be able to do so as early as July 2016.

Billed as a system designed to have students think more deeply about what they are learning or accomplishing in high school by the development of online portfolios, the new endeavor will actually create efficient ways for college admissions officers to access more detailed information about prospective applicants earlier in the game.

“I’m not convinced about the true intentions of the coalition,” commented one dean of admissions whose institution elected not to join the Coalition in an email to The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The schools participating in this effort should not mask their intentions on the guise of ‘access.’ It’s a deceiving marketing ploy…”

The coalition application is an interesting concept, but begs the question of who will benefit more from the information-sharing plan—high school students or colleges.  And while the plan is promoted as helping students—particularly disadvantaged students—to present themselves to colleges in a more robust manner, it seems likely that students able to afford early college coaching may actually benefit quite a bit from being able to post their accomplishments on a platform viewed and commented on by admissions staff.

Many questions remain, but one thing remains certain.  If this plan gets off the ground, the process of college admissions will be anything but simpler.

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