The Coalition for Access

A number of colleges don’t like the current admissions process.

What ignited their angst and reform desires was the launch of the new Common Application (called CA4) in 2013, which was so buggy that early application deadlines had to be extended, and worse, many colleges were exclusively tied to the Common Application: they had no alternatives.

Now the alternative to the Common Application will launch in April: The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. Though it sounds like the name of this new coalition was stolen off the pages of Animal Farm, the coalition already includes all the Ivy League, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, virtually all the most selective liberal arts colleges, along with many of the flagship public universities such as the University of Michigan.

The coalition is positioning itself as a ‘high integrity’ brand and requires all members have a 6-year graduation rate of 70% and that they meet an applicant’s full financial need (though the actual details of what this means, especially on the public-school side, is yet to be clearly defined). This narrows the eligible member universe down to 140 schools of which 80 are already members.

The intent of the coalition is to help students make their applications more reflective. The coalition also wants ‘ongoing improvement and innovation’ in the college admissions process and believes competition is important: now applicants can choose among three separate sites: the Common Application, the Universal College Application and the coalition’s site.

Additionally the coalition seeks to assist talented low-income and first generation students who might not currently aspire to college, or find the process too complex. Its message is that college is affordable and that such students can be successful. Furthermore, the best way to prepare for a highly selective college is by getting engaged early in the process.

To such ends the coalition will unveil in April 2016 a Virtual College Locker.  Students in all grade levels in high school will be encouraged to add items to their own Virtual Locker including activity lists, videos of athletic or artistic performances, photos, research abstracts, audio clips and all varieties of written work. Students may elect to invite counselors from admissions departments, parents and teachers to view and comment on items in the locker. Moreover, the site’s technology will allow viewing from any mobile device.

Already there are outcries decrying the concept of drawing 14-year-old freshman into the admissions process before many of them have even made the transition into high school.  An October 13 missive from 100 Jesuit high school counselors questions the validity of having their students, many of whom are the low-income and first generation students the coalition purports to want to court as early as possible, begin submitting work to a virtual locker during freshman year.

Mr. James Nondorf, the Coalition president and dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Chicago counters such resistance, “Deciding you want to go to one of our kinds of schools, you have to be doing things all through your high school years.”  

Barbara Gill, the associate vice president of Enrollment Management at the University of Maryland and vice president of the coalition, is preparing Maryland’s admissions staff to engage 8th graders about the online platform.

The coalition’s efforts might supply more questions than answers as it prepares to improve the college admissions process. The coalition board acknowledges, “We don’t believe we will get it all right in the first iteration and are committed to a process of assessment and continuous improvement.”

However, with the gold-plated colleges firmly in control of their own online application there is little doubt that member colleges will now better control and customize their applications. The Virtual Locker will possibly revolutionize the college admissions process, and now there is a clear rival to the monopoly of the Common Application. This is all good news, yet whether the coalition will accelerate the already wild frenzy for access to the most selective schools is to be determined. The curtain goes up in April with the coalition applications available by mid-summer 2016.