Admissions coalition makeover pushed back after criticism

Leaders say they want more time to engage, answer questions

A coalition of more than 80 institutions planning to overhaul the admissions process announced last week it will delay launching its new platform, which critics argue will favor wealthier students.

That criticism was on display earlier this month at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed.

The coalition plans to create a new platform for applicants. As early as ninth grade, high school students would begin collecting examples of their work into what was originally dubbed a "portfolio."  Students could share these portfolios with others—community organizers or even colleges themselves—to get feedback before applying. Finally, that portfolio would become a significant part of the application once the student is ready to enter college.

Coalition organizers say the platform would help them reach low-income students and those without access to robust college admissions counseling.

But critics say the platform is too complicated and will create precisely the opposite outcome: it will favor wealthy students with ample access to counselors and other resources.

"I can tell you at my well-to-do private high school, we'll set up advisory meetings twice a semester, starting freshman year, for students to  look through all of their work, talk to me about what should go in their portfolio … My kids are going to have shiny, full, beautiful portfolios," one director of college counseling posted to a NACAC listserv.

Related: Want to know if applicants will succeed? Try giving them a personality quiz.

"Any tool that is somewhat complicated in the college admissions process automatically advantages those who are already advantaged. And this tool sounds somewhat complicated," he added.

Since announcing the platform, coalition leaders have stopped referring to the applications as "portfolios" and are now calling them "virtual college lockers."

At one point during the session, speakers cited concerns that they intended to characterize as unfounded. Yet Jaschik reports that the audience broke out into loud applause when several of the supposedly unfounded concerns were named, including that wealthy students will have an advantage and the process will be more complicated.

For some admissions leaders, the new platform did not seem so new. "What this system seems to be is to continue to focus on selectivity rather than on finding the right college for an individual student," Robert Massa, SVP for enrollment and institutional planning at Drew University, told Inside Higher Ed. "It will, by human nature, likely become a competitive tool," he said. "And perhaps worst of all, free or not, the most sophisticated student will likely be the most active—not those who are currently underserved."    

In a letter last week to high school counselors, the coalition said that it will push back the platform start date from January to April.

According to the coalition's letter, it is pushing back the launch date "to allow for more time to engage and answer questions and for counselors to be closer to finishing their work with the current senior class" (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 10/5; "Quick Takes," Inside Higher Ed, 10/8).

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