Competing Groups Strive for Access and Affordability. Which will Succeed?

Available, Accessible, Affordable shutterstock_171048680.jpgRecently a coalition of over 90 public and private institutions of higher learning announced a “goal of improving the college admissions application process for all students….by developing a free platform of online tools to streamline the experience of planning for and applying to college1

Access Plus Affordability Equals Success?

The goal, according to the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success as outlined in their September press release, is to recast “the college admissions process from something that is transactional and limited in time into a more engaged, ongoing and educationally reaffirming experience.  They also hope to motivate a strong college-going mindset among students of all backgrounds, especially those from low-income families or underrepresented groups who have historically had less access to leading colleges and universities.” 1

In addition to creating this aspirational experience by encouraging interest in pursuing a college education, the Coalition also believes these tools will help to level the playing field, citing research that “has found that students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not participate effectively in the college application process, struggle with financial aid and often do not get awarded all the financial aid they qualify for…” In other words, by fostering a “college going culture1”, a more diverse group of students will connect with a wider group of public and private institutions and the aid necessary to attend and graduate from those institutions.1 The schools that make up the Coalition have a graduation rate of nearly 70%1 within 6 years.

An alternative to The Common Application?

The Coalition was founded in part as a reaction to the rollout of The Common Application - an online undergraduate college application accepted by over 400 independent colleges - whose member institutions also hoped to successfully streamline the admissions process. The frustrations as described in a New York Times2 article by Laura Pappano began when the member schools ceded operations of the site to a professional staff. There were disagreements between the staff and member schools concerning changes and supplements to the standard form, compounded by a series of technical issues and crashes that plagued the Common Application site just as early decision deadlines were approaching. Also and perhaps most notably, the introduction of, “a policy change, to go into effect this admissions season, that members no longer have to evaluate candidates holistically, an approach that looks beyond grade-point averages and test scores.”  2

These issues, along with the, “stress-inducing” 1 nature of the current process prompted Zina L. Evans, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Florida, along with Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale Universityto join forces.

The Coalition will offer college planning and application tools online and includes:

  • A digital portfolio of a students work beginning in the ninth grade (called the Coalition Locker)
  • A collaborative platform (The Collaboration Space) where parents and guidance counselors can view and provide input
  • The Coalition Application which features a modern interface that “adapts to a student’s life, providing a seamless experience”4  and allows students to use different devices for utilization (laptop, mobile device, etc.)

The Coalition is providing these tools, hopeful that students will use these tools to:

  1. Begin to plan for college as early as freshman in highschool
  2. Better understand and express themselves
  3. Help them emerge in as seniors with a body of work that helps them identify appropriate colleges for their skill sets and goals and assist them with application for these schools5

Opposition from High School Guidance Counselors

Not surprisingly a number of high schools have reservations regarding the Coalition’s approach. The Jesuit High School College Counselors Association expressed their concerns in an open letter 3 to the Coalition, including the concern that, while laudable, the program doesn’t take into account “adolescent development models” and the lack of bandwidth on the part of high school counselors - many of whom have anywhere from 300 to 1000 students they are responsible for. The 50 Jesuit High Schools also had concerns regarding student privacy and the notion that, 3 “ The heightened scrutiny with which these documents will be assessed will devolve from what a positive high school educational experience can encompass into a competitive “stepping stone” mentality that will affect every decision within these formative years. 3

Similar concerns were outlined in response to the Coalition’s announcement from the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS) who, while crediting the group for their “noble intentions” felt that “more data and further counsel3” were needed if the success being promised was to be realized.

Both the Jesuit High Schools and ACCIS mentioned the many changes that are already in progress affecting both college admissions offices and the students applying. These include changes to the FASFA guidelines, the college application process, and the new SAT which have already been, or will be introduced shortly. The Jesuit High School College Counselors suggested a delay until 2017 with a proof of concept or pilot program to start in 2017 that should include more feedback from high school guidance counselors. Both groups also felt strongly that the program should begin in the sophomore year allowing freshman to adjust to high school before they begin to think about college.

New York Times reporter Pappano describes this as a “very vocal2” backlash to the Coalition and their plans. “Critics have been quick to dissect the membership list, noting that a number of the private colleges are need aware — an applicant’s ability to pay can factor in admissions decisions — or they include loans in their financial aid packages. That can discourage access.”Other institutions, Pappano tells us, are concerned that “drawing 14-year-olds into admissions tasks will make a stressful process more so.” Suggesting that the coalition would only be making worse the problem it has been created to fix, Pappano quotes Kate Murphy, director of College Counseling at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif, “To start putting together an electronic résumé puts a lot of pressure on kids and parents to consider what should go into that locker.”

To view a complete list of the colleges and universities that make up the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success click here. This link also provides information on the Coalition,

For more information visit:

Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -


Sources for this article



2A New Coalition of Elite Colleges Tries to Reshape Admissions

3 Meeting Opposition:



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