Dec 16, 2015

The Coalition presses forward for 2016 launch of new application platform

University of Chicago

Not much has been heard from the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success since the well-attended session at College Board Forum 2015, during which an effort was made to repair the botched launch of the controversial new application platform at NACAC’s annual conference in San Diego. The silence is a little concerning especially insofar as a key element of the plan, the virtual “locker” or student portfolio builder, is scheduled to go on line early next year and counselors are eager for details.

Responding to loudly-voiced concerns about the Coalition, its application and possible motivations, an announcement was made at the November conference that 47 counselors representing 24 public and 40 private high schools (five international) and three community based organizations (CBOs) would be beta testing and commenting on phase one—the virtual locker—during December.  Unfortunately, an element of secrecy has been imposed as participating counselors have been asked to remain silent about the process.

The public is welcome, however, to comment on the Coalition website.  But without more specifics to work with or a product to test, it’s been a little difficult. Nevertheless, a group headed by Will Dix, a long-time advocate for first-generation college and low-income high school students, is putting together a document to address issues raised by the Coalition’s plan.

And why all the secrecy? It certainly didn’t work well for the Common Application and resulted in a public relations nightmare as well as some very faulty software being introduced during the launch of CA 4 in August of 2013.
It’s worth noting that when the Universal College Application introduced its new product, comments were solicited from the entire counseling community. There was no secrecy involved and no specially-appointed committee of anonymous counselors. Everyone was welcome to test and navigate the new software. 

But despite all the secrecy, there has been a little bit of news coming out of the Coalition.  While the nearly 90 Coalition members are presumably very much engaged in meeting admissions deadlines for this year, there are indications that the group intends to go forward as planned:

Membership.  A number of members are taking a wait-and-see approach to various elements of the application platform and will sit out the launch, preferring to wait a year for glitches to be addressed.  Some, most notably those already using CollegeNET products, are fully committed to going forward with the application and may not have much of a choice.  Other institutions are still scrambling to get on board before the proposed July 1, 2016 start date, seeing an advantage to being associated with the group.  But most Coalition members see the new application as a backup alternative to the Common App, which they will keep using for the foreseeable future.  And the “locker” remains a huge unknown in terms of how—or if—it will be used by members. In the meantime, a committee has been appointed, chaired by Zina Evans, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Florida and William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College, which will be charged with looking at widening the membership in year two of the Coalition.

Legal entanglements.  CollegeNET, the Coalition’s named vendor and software developer for the application platform, filed an appeal to its antitrust lawsuit against the Common Application, after losing the initial round last May. While legal action against the principal competitor to the Coalition should be an entirely separate matter, it does lead to an awkward situation. More than one player in the drama wonders why a for-profit vendor with a very costly legal dispute against the nonprofit Common Application was selected to take such a high profile role in developing and promoting the new venture.  It certainly adds to the controversy particularly for colleges proposing to use both applications next year.

Staffing.  The University of Chicago Office of Admissions recently posted a vacancy announcement for an Assistant Director of Coalition Outreach, to “work primarily on the Coalition’s behalf for at least one year,” after which the position is expected to transition to the Coalition.  The Assistant Director will report to the Coalition’s Interim Director (a player yet to be named) and Chicago’s Vice President and Dean of Admissions, James Nondorf, who currently serves as the president of the Coalition.  In addition to being familiar with the college admission process, a successful candidate will have a “[c]ommitment to ensuring the highest level of confidentiality” as well as a “[p]atient and tolerant attitude toward demanding clients and work.”

In the meantime, someone is investing a great deal of time and possibly money in getting the Coalition off the ground. The website is evolving, application tools are being developed, and the organization is hiring.  Hopefully, the Coalition board will stand by its commitment to improve communications and bring more voices into the decision-making process.

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