Some Higher Education Professionals Are Skeptical
Eighty selective colleges and universities have announced a plan for a new platform that they claim will streamline the way students plan for, think about and apply to college. Their hope is the platform will help build a college-going culture that improves access to underserved populations such as low-income students and underrepresented minority groups.
The expectation is that all students will benefit from thinking early about college and planning appropriately and thoughtfully over a longer period of time. This group of higher education institutions is called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. The first generation of the platform, which will be free, is expected to be available in January 2016 and some of these institutions will permit students to apply through the platform by the summer of 2016 (for high school class of 2017).
New Digital Portfolio Component
Students would still apply to college by completing an application much like the current common application and colleges would be able to personalize the application with their own questions as they do now. The most unique feature of the new platform will be a digital portfolio where students as early as ninth grade could post their best papers and essays, papers, project and extracurricular summaries and, one would presume, art and other creative work. Students would be able to invite others such as counselors, community mentors and other advisors to review and comment on the portfolio.
The college admissions world is buzzing about this news and there is plenty of skepticism. Some observers wonder if this is a self-serving gesture by this set of elite colleges that include the Ivy League, top liberal arts colleges and public universities and other highly selective institutions—and just another way for them to brand their institutions and garner even more attention than they get now. However, the coalition is open to new members so the list will likely expand beyond elite institutions over time.
How Genuine is Claim To Meet Need?
There are requirements for joining the coalition. Members must agree to meet the full demonstrated financial need of applicants who are admitted and have a 6-year graduation rate of at least 70%. Skeptics argue that colleges who are need aware, meaning they consider the ability to pay when they decide whether to admit a student or not, could join the coalition and cherry pick which low-income students to admit, but not necessarily meet the goal of increasing access to underserved populations. Only a few institutions on the list are need blind, meaning they do not consider a student’s financial aid needs when making the admissions decision. These are usually those with billion plus endowments such as the Ivy League, Amherst College, Bowdoin College and the like.
In an interview with The Chronicle for Higher Education, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University questioned if access was truly the goal of the coalition and if there were not already ways to admit more underserved students that are not currently being used.
“Many of these institutions don’t really stand for access, based on the low number of Pell Grant students they enroll,” he said. “It sounds really good, it’s a brilliant PR stroke, but some of these institutions have done the most to keep poor kids out, by this ridiculous reliance on things like test scores that only measure achievement and don’t measure merit in any way, shape, or form.”
Another concern is that the platform will accelerate anxiety and competition related to applying to college and potentially create another uneven playing field where those that have the resources will be able to produce impressive portfolios, leaving the underserved once more outside the gate.
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