Feb 27, 2014

Common App changes leadership

In an email circulated yesterday to member colleges and universities, Thyra Briggs, president of the Common Application board of directors and vice president for admission and financial aid at Harvey Mudd College, announced the departure of the Common App’s long-time executive director, Rob Killion.

“Based on the experience of the 2014 application, it is clear to the Board of Directors that changes need to be made in several areas of the organization in order to ensure a successful launch of next year’s application,” explained Ms. Briggs. “While it would have been ideal to have every piece of the transition process in order before we moved forward, we realize that doing so would have delayed action too long.”

Considered a visionary within the admissions industry, Killion led the Common Application for ten years. Starting with a handful of member colleges and a paper application, Killion managed the transition to a revolutionary online application serving 517 colleges and universities during the 2013-14 application cycle.

But he ran into serious management and technological issues introducing new application software in August of last year. As problems mounted, the Common App was initially slow to respond and lost the confidence of college administrators, with several defecting to the Universal College Application—the Common App’s main competitor. In addition, many colleges were forced to push back deadlines as applicants struggled with the new software and staff was forced to find work-arounds for missing data and incomplete applications.

At the same time he was dealing with faulty technology and an increasingly difficult relationship with Hobsons, the Common App’s technology subcontractor, Killion was attempting a major reorganization moving from several virtual offices located in different parts of the country to a single office housing all staff in northern Virginia.

In December, the Common App board hired Censeo, a third-party management consultant, to conduct an independent evaluation of the situation. While final results have yet to be released, it appears evident that questions were raised about the ability of the current leadership to effect a smooth transition to a new management structure.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Killion expressed frustration with the Board.

"The Common Application Board of Directors appears to be making me the scapegoat for their decisions to hire Hobsons to build the new online system while becoming independent from Hobsons at the same time," Killion said. "I will have much more to say publicly about this soon."

In the meantime, the Board will be conducting a search for a new executive director.

“Findings from Censeo’s report will be presented in the coming weeks and will be used as an important tool for the Board of Directors and leadership team moving forward into the 2014-15 application cycle,” said Ms. Briggs in her email to Common App members. “We remain committed to the values of reliability, access, equity and integrity stated in our mission, and we are confident that the changes we are putting in place will strengthen us an organization moving forward.”

For the immediate future, a leadership transition team composed of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, Chad Massie (vice president of technology), Lesley Hargreaves (vice president of operations), and Scott Anderson (senior director of policy) will take over leadership duties.

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