College-bound juniors as well as their parents have likely heard of the Common Application, an online college admissions application. that has been the blessing as well as the bane of the college search. A new college admissions portal, shared by 80 colleges and universities, will offer a streamlined, and hopefully more user-friendly, platform beginning this spring.

This new college admissions portal has been created by a new organization called the Coalition for Access and Affordability. This new college admissions coalition will manage the application process as well as a “locker” for students to store, then later share, examples of their work with admissions officers.

Given the name of the organization and the intentions expressed by member schools to the media, it appears that the idea behind the portal is to build a better, simpler way for students from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to member schools.  That sounds like a fine intention. Many of the Coalition schools have been criticized in the media on diversity and their outreach to prospective students from these backgrounds.

But nothing has been mentioned as to how the Coalition will market to these students. My hunch is that the Coalition itself will do no marketing at all. It will leave that to each school. Then the net gain of the Coalition site will be zero.

The 80 Coalition schools have a six-year graduation rate of no less than 70 percent. Of these schools, 32 are state-supported universities; the rest are exceptionally-selective private schools.  All of the private schools are committed to meeting the full financial need for their students as determined through the Federal Method (the Free Application for Student Financial Aid or FAFSA) and the Institutional Method, most typically by working with the data entered by families on the College Board’s CSS Profile. The public schools are committed to meeting full need for in-state students. All of these schools all have already have strong brand recognition within their target geographic markets.

Why would a school with a strong brand name and extensive local marketing outreach such as Penn State send Philadelphia-area students to a portal that does not have the Penn State logo on it? That makes no sense. The Penn State admissions office should care that more Philadelphia-area students become interested in Penn State. Why would they also want to help those students apply to Pitt or Rutgers? That’s a head scratcher. It dilutes their own efforts to showcase their school’s, as well as their state’s commitment to accessibility and affordability.

The same is true for an exceptionally-selective school such as Harvard or Yale. These schools accept very small fractions of their applicants. One could wonder why they would collaborate to build a college admissions portal when each school could spend their own marketing dollars to find well-qualified students from low-income families. They have the resources to partner with local foundations and other non-profits in the major cities, as well as their school systems, to find these students. If these schools are serious about finding these students, they should use a personal touch.

There are 80 schools among the original Coalition membership. Could there be more?

While I have not done a count of all colleges that have a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better, I do know of several schools with less-famous names than the original Coalition membership that have four-year graduation rates that are better than 70 percent.

The state schools that are among the original members of this college admissions coalition vary in selectivity. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill offers admission to less than a third of all applicants while the University of Vermont accepts more than 70 percent of those apply.  It appears that the public member schools bought into the Coalition’s “need standard” while also meeting the “graduation standard,” or they maintain a reasonable sticker price as the New York public members (Buffalo and Geneseo) and James Madison University (VA) do.

For the state schools that meet the “graduation standard” I see advantages for schools that seek to recruit a more national, or at least a more regional student body and want to be perceived as part of a “special group.” Among schools that are not yet Coalition members,  Binghamton University (NY) is a likely prospect, since two other schools in the State University of New York (SUNY) system are already members.  The University of Delaware is also a likely prospect as is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among smaller state schools that are not flagships, New College of Florida St. Mary’s College of Maryland and The College of New Jersey could be prospective members. But not many more.

Interestingly the private schools are either selective liberal arts colleges or national research universities. Only St. Olaf College (MN) offered admission to more than half of the students who applied last year. The rest are more selective. Most of these schools are much more selective than St. Olaf.

No highly-regarded regionally known schools such as Butler or Elon are members of this group. Nor are top-performing schools such as Allegheny, Clark or Juniata which are also among the fairer private colleges when it comes to financial aid.  All of these schools, however, offer admission to more than 60 percent of the students who apply. It’s interesting that these schools are not part of the group. The vendor who built the platform could have gotten all of them if its team had bothered to do the research.

Coalition membership would help a lesser-known school such as Allegheny or Clark far more than it would help Harvard or Yale. It could do as much as a “high ranking” does for these schools. Their admissions offices would take the locker far more seriously, too. I cannot believe that state universities with huge application volumes and exceptionally-selective schools that turn large numbers away would ever open those locker doors.

But I do not believe that the Coalition was set up to help private schools that need more brand recognition.  Otherwise it would have invited them in. The leadership was more interested in brand names that would attract traffic–as well as completed applications.

Given the intentions of the Coalition, implied through its name, we do not know if the qualified candidates will be allowed to apply for free, and avoid the headaches of applying for fee waivers. This would be a proper gesture on the part of the Coalition. My hunch is that the answer is no. They need the application fees to cover the costs of their portal.




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