A new approach to college admissions

Coalition hopes to help high schools better prepare students for higher ed

Over the years, college applications have become increasingly similar, with seemingly generic questions and check-boxes that often leave prospective students to wonder, “What does this have to do with me?” That’s part of what the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success aims to change.

The goal is not just to revise a few forms, but for students to collaborate with counselors and build a portfolio of work throughout high school. Ultimately the hope is that modifying the end process will lead to changes in how high schools help their charges become truly college-ready.

The coalition comprises both public and private institutions, with 84 members as of mid-October. To participate, public universities must have affordable tuition for residents of their state, and private schools must have a commitment to meet the full, demonstrated financial need of admitted domestic students.

Coalition schools must also have a stable, 70 percent six-year graduation rate.

“The membership requirements of the coalition reassure students from low-income families and other underrepresented groups that college is affordable to them and that they will be successful in attaining a degree,” says Chicago-based consultant Julie Peterson, who helps with communications for the coalition.

More about the college ‘locker’

    The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success will offer students this private online space to collect and organize materials throughout their high school journey.

    It will be similar to Google Drive or DropBox but customized for students.

    Documents saved for use later in the college search or application process will be accessible only by the students, although they can share documents with counselors, teachers or mentors to seek guidance.

    When it’s time to apply to an institution via the Coalition application, a student can attach materials from the locker as needed.

“This has been a huge barrier for many students and one of the issues of greatest concern in the public policy dialogue. The coalition is helping to address this central question about affordability.”

Key to the program is an online portfolio that provides a better representation of who students are beyond test scores and class rankings.

“We will be offering a platform for students to plan for college, including a private ‘locker’ to store materials that will support self-reflection and possibly materials that will be further developed in the college application process,” says Audrey Smith, vice president for enrollment at Smith College in Massachusetts.

The platform will be available beginning in April 2016, followed by the launch of an alternative to the widely used Common Application by summer.

“I expect most, if not all, members of the coalition will continue to accept applications through a variety of channels including the Common App,” says Peterson. “The admissions people I’ve spoken to are focused first on using the portfolio to help create a college-going mindset among students and give them more assistance over a longer period of time in gathering the kinds of information that can be submitted as part of the application process when they are seniors.

“This will be especially valuable at lower-resourced schools where the coalition platform can augment the support provided by high school counselors.”


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