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What is the “Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success”?

Imagine an ocean liner full of young passengers cruising toward its annual port-of-call… elite college admissions. A small hole is discovered below the waterline and the good ship is taking on water. She’s not in peril, but attention must be paid. After due consideration, the captain announces his plan — another hole will be made in the hull to let the water out!

We’ve all witnessed situations in which a solution is being implemented that won’t solve the problem and may even make it worse. In the context of admissions to top-tier colleges, the problem at hand is the imperfection of the current admissions process and, in particular, the Common Application. The solution that is being proposed to remedy the problem is called the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success.

The Coalition has over 80 member colleges and universities, including many prestigious institutions such as the eight Ivy League schools, Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, CalTech Pasadena, Claremont, Colby, Chicago, Duke, Pomona, McKenna, Johns Hopkins, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Mt. Holyoke, Northeastern, Stanford, Vassar, Williams, William & Mary and many other highly selective schools.

According to the Coalition’s website, the rationale for the Coalition is as follows:

“The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success was developed to improve the college application process for all students as they search for and apply to the perfect college. The platform provides a single, centralized, toolkit for students to organize, build, and refine their applications to numerous institutions. In addition, Coalition members hold values and beliefs that align with recent research which, among other things, demonstrates that students thinking about college early in high school begets higher application rates.

The aforementioned tool kit includes the following:

  • Virtual Locker — Academic documents, letters of recommendation, supplemental essays, and extracurricular activities
  • Collaboration Platform — Collaborate and share application materials with important collaborators like guidance counselors, teachers, and mentors
  • Application Portal — Relevant student data feeds automatically from the locker into the coalition application (which can be used in lieu of the Common App). The student then has complete freedom to choose which documents to include for each institution.

The Coalition was aggressively launched in late 2015 but due to a negative reaction from some elements of the college admissions profession, has since assumed a more conciliatory position. A report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling on a recent conference presentation by Coalition representatives noted that, “Presenters acknowledged that support for the platform isn’t universal”… an understatement indeed.

Below are some of the concerns that have been expressed by college admissions professionals regarding the Coalition plan as presented:

  1. The Coalition application would cause stress and confusion for students beginning in an earlier timeframe than a typical student starts to focus on college admission.
  2. There is no provision for the incremental assistance that low-income students will need to cope with the complexity of the Coalition’s toolkit, especially with respect to computer and Internet availability and skills.
  3. The Coalition’s collaboration platform will create more work for already overburdened high school guidance counselors due to its onerous editing and feedback requirements.
  4. The Coalition application will also cause logistical complications for college admissions officers. They will need to perform additional tasks such as responding to student inquiries and advising students about their applications.
  5. Although one of its goals it to enable eligible low-income students to gain admission to member colleges, the Coalition’s plan includes no provisions that address the question of who will provide the additional financial aid needed to enroll these students.
  6. Students may be reluctant to upload documents to their Virtual Locker early in high school out of concern that such documentation may be viewable by unknown parties and therefore may have a negative impact.
  7. Many high school underclassmen don’t have a precise idea of their educational goals, so few students would know what to submit to their Virtual Locker during these years. However, when, as upperclassmen, they have targeted certain schools for admissions, these students will suffer an inherent disadvantage under the Coalition’s scheme.

After reading this post, if you feel that the Coalition is not ready for primetime, you’re not alone. However, given the blue chip institutional membership and the worthiness of their goals, it’s a safe bet that they’ll resolve the issues currently before them. They will re-launch with a more practicable plan. Although this time is not imminent, IvySelect college consultant advise students who aspire to the Ivy League and other top-tier institutions to stay informed about the Coalition and its progress.

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