May 16, 2014

Common App brings back paper and pilots live chat

Cooper Union will be joining the Common App for 2014-15
Lost in the wake of controversy surrounding the antitrust lawsuit filed against the Common Application by CollegeNET were a series of announcements made by the Common App Board of Directors at their annual member meeting last week.

Responding to concerns voiced by both member institutions and the counseling community, the Board voted to make several key changes for 2014-15, including:

Live Support.  A serious point of contention since the introduction of the electronic application has been the inability of Common App users to reach “live” technical support.  To address this problem, the Common App has decided to “pilot” chat support targeted to “our most challenging constituency which is our recommenders.”  Noting that they require “more handholding,” Lesley Hargreaves, the Common App’s director of operations and support, announced the pilot program will begin in October—a peak time for tech support requests—and will be limited to recommenders only.

Paper Application.  Noting that the paper version of the Common Application has been “a valued and missed advising resource,” Scott Anderson, director of outreach, announced that the Common App will be providing a PDF version of the application which will essentially be what was thought of as the CA3, only undated and revised to contain the current essay prompts.  For colleges wishing to have a version with specific member questions (particularly for those schools that continue to enroll students during July when the Common App goes on hiatus), the Common App membership services team will work with individual admissions offices to develop those documents.

Slideroom.  As a service to applicants submitting arts portfolios, the Common App will be making Slideroom available to all member colleges and universities and not just those institutions agreeing to be at the “Exclusive II” membership level.  Because of contractual obligations, Non-Exclusive and Exclusive I colleges will have to pay for the service this year.  Fees will be revisited next year.

Transfer Registrar Report.  For this year, the Transfer Registrar Report will be going off line.  The Common App promises to convene a focus group on the transfer process and make decisions about how this information will be conveyed in the future.

Navigation and Question Clarification.  Acknowledging that “readability was a challenge” for last year’s applicants, the Common App will be making adjustments to various application questions.  Specifically mentioned were questions pertaining to race/ethnicity, fee waivers, current year courses, and a return to the grid format for school reports.  The Common App has already convened a focus group of high school students to test new questions and promises to make more of an effort to get feedback from potential student-applicants before going live on August 1.

Testing Time.  In addition to adding “project and program management skills” to the technology team, Chad Massie, director of technology, introduced a comprehensive timeline with milestones leading to the August 1 launch.  Included in the timeline were nine weeks of testing time during which institutions will be able to work with the system and make appropriate alignments with enrollment management software.

While 2013-14 presented a “significant challenge” to the Common Application, the good news is that the independent evaluation conducted by Censeo revealed that the CA4 system architecture is “fundamentally sound.” The organization will continue its plan to establish independence from Hobsons under the interim leadership of Paul Mott and hopes to see continued growth in membership as well as system utilization.

And almost anticipating some of the issues raised in the suit filed by CollegeNET, “enrollment leaders” attending the conference took up questions involving organizational mission, the role and composition of the board, governance, and pricing. 

In an open forum, they discussed key matters that have plagued the organization for years, such as, is the Common App a technology vendor, a policy organization, a service provider, or all of the above?  What group(s) should provide recommendations and direction to the Common Application?  And how should the Common App price its services?

While the enrollment leaders agreed the Common App’s mission should include a little of all the options presented and the board is primarily responsible to its members, there was little agreement about pricing.  Opinions were fairly equally divided among pricing structures that included “exclusivity” driven, flat fee, feature driven or platform driven.  School application fee driven—assessing a percentage of fees charged applicants—was the only option voted down.

In the interest of “proactive and transparent communications,” Board President Thyra Briggs revealed that the Common Application budget for FY 13 was $14 million; for FY14, it should be $15 million; and for FY 15, the budget is projected to be between $15 and $16 million.  Because of a series of expected and unexpected one-time expenses for this year, reserves have been seriously depleted, but in the future, the board plans to build reserves covering one to two years of the operating budget.  

And ten years ago, in 2004, the Common App employed fewer than 2 full time staff members.  This year, the organization will employ 50 full time equivalent staffers.

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