Controversial college admissions platform has vague intentions

By Editorial Board

More than two million high school seniors are expected to apply to college in the next few months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly half of those students will use the Common Application togain admission.. However, the Coalition for Access, Affordability & Success, composed of more than 80 public and private colleges and universities, plans to introduce a new application and “recast the college admission process,”according to a Sept. 28 Coalition press release. The Coalition’s application is not meant to replace the Common App, as many members of the Coalition will remain Common App schools as well.

The Coalition is composed of every Ivy League school, elite liberal arts colleges—such as Vassar, Smith and Amherst Colleges—and a multitude of selective private and public universities, like Northwestern University and the University of Virginia. To join the coalition, a college’s six-year graduation rate must be at least 70 percent.

The Coalition presented its goals and plans at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling on Oct. 3. The coalition is developing a platform of digital tools for students to streamline college planning and applications. In January 2016, the platform will be available to high school students. The Coalition plans to introduce the application by next summer.The Coalition’s press release claims its novel platform will engage and motivate more students to attend college and increase access for low-income and minority students. However, it remains unclear how introducing a new college application could achieve those goals.

Besides the usual background questionnaire, the Coalition’s app includes a novel portfolio feature, which allows students to upload videos, essays, self-reflections and other items that could enhance their application. Students can ask others, such as teachers, counselors or even college admissions officers, to review their applications and portfolios. Students can also create profiles on the website and begin submitting materials as early as ninth grade so they can get feedback from the college if it offers these services.

Making the platform accessible to students throughout their high school career will help them understand the path to college admission, according to Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

“Starting to think about college earlier reduces some of the pressure of the application process, but more importantly, it sets the expectation that students should aspire to attend college,” Allen said in the Coalition’s press release.

Introducing another college application with a few enhanced features does not affect a high school’s college admissions resources. Emphasizing college applications earlier could even be detrimental, considering environments that stress the importance of higher education early on—like college preparatory and magnet high schools—are notorious for creating high expectations. 49 percent of students at a college prep high schools reported dealing with a great deal of stress, and 31 percent said they were “somewhat stressed” on a daily basis, according to a July 2015 study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology.

The Coalition and its vaguely stated goals have drawn criticism from some in the world of higher education. In an Oct. 5 column published by The Washington Post, Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul University’s associate vice president of Enrollment Management and Marketing, claims the Coalition is “making hollow promises to low-income kids they could already serve if they really wanted to.”

Prior to announcing an application that would rival Common App’s monopoly on college admissions, the Coalition should have prepared more thorough information about its self-proclaimed goals of “accessibility, affordability and success” and how those goals can be met by students from all educational and financial backgrounds.

While the portfolio feature is an innovative way to personalize the application process, it is still questionable how exactly the Coalition will achieve its ambitious goals.