My colleague at Drew University  Chris Teare, writes a weekly blog on college admissions for Forbes.  This week, he asked me to be his guest.  The post can be found the link listed below and is also re-posted here.   rjm

http://www.forbes.com/sites/christeare/2015/12/26/the-debate-over-the-college-admissions-process/

 

On the eve of the annual gathering of members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in September, 2015, the “Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success,” a group of about 80 of the most selective colleges and universities in the country, announced their intent to create a new admission application process. The plan included, among other things, the creation of a “virtual locker” where students, starting in the ninth grade, could add examples of their best high school work that could be used to enhance their future college application.

 

The members of the Coalition had a noble goal – to provide students more access to college by engaging them in the preparation process earlier. The college admission process had become complex and overwhelming, and excluded too many students. The Coalition sought to change this. The announcement was met with much opposition, especially from high school counselors who felt totally left out of the discussion and skeptical about the details.

 

The debate over the admissions process and what it creates for students, parents, counselor and colleges is not new. In 1974, the Common Application began with a small group of highly selective colleges seeking to simplify the process. Concern was expressed that this elitist group would dominate the admissions scene. Today, the Common Application has almost 600 members and while it has contributed to the ease of applying to college, it also has helped to inflate the number of applications per student submitted. That in turn has led to increasing competition among colleges for students and among students for admission.

 

In 2002, former college counselor Lloyd Thacker started the Education Conservancy, to “help students, colleges and high schools overcome commercial interference in college admissions.” His 2004 book, “College Unranked,” sought to restore sanity and purpose in college admissions.   Yet more than a decade later, the same issues exist.

 

The Coalition’s plans to take on the process has brought a new urgency to the reform conversation that has continued to brew since Thacker’s book was published. In a working paper still in progress entitled, “The College Admission Process: A Call for Reform,” Willard Dix, a college counselor with InGenius Prep, and his colleagues claim that the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success presented their proposal as

“a fait accompli…despite the fact that Coalition members themselves admitted it was not truly ready and they did not really know what would happen once it was in place. It was met with instant and often bitter criticism from counselors, who felt the college admission process was already complex enough and that the plan had been presented without any significant input from counselors who work with students daily.”

 

Further, Dix and his colleagues allege that the new Coalition application process would become harder and more stressful because of the ninth grade start of a “virtual locker,” with unequal access to the technology and assistance necessary to use it.

 

For this reason and others, they call on counselors and admission officers to work together to reform college admissions. Among the points they advocate:

 

  1. Streamlining the college admission process to relieve some of students’ burdens of preparing for college entrance;
  2. More collaboration between high schools and colleges
  3. A halt to indiscriminate marketing that floods students with “invitations” to apply, replaced by more targeted efforts based on realistic assessments;
  4. An approach to the college application process that supports counselor/student as well as technology/student interactions.

 

In addition, Dix and his colleagues call for a “comprehensive study” of the college admissions process and its impact on students, parents, schools and colleges.

 

I applaud the work the Will Dix and others are doing to articulate the issues, though their suggestions are not new. The Education Conservancy advocated similar principles 12 years ago, and with leadership from several college presidents, numerous higher education leaders signed on to boycott the US News peer assessment survey. Despite presidential signatures, there was no uniform movement by colleges representing a broad spectrum of institutions nationwide to come up with a “solution” to “college admissions hype” and other application process issues.

 

So if the new wave of interest in reform, spawned by the Coalition’s new process, is to succeed in actually making substantive changes to college admissions, what must be done?   Studies will not result in change without broad participation on a national scale. To that end, I would call on the leadership of NACAC to immediately:

 

  1.  Create a Task Force of college admission and school counseling personnel to evaluate and propose change the college admissions in the direction called for in the Dix et. al. paper.
  2.  Determine the make-up of this national group of colleges and schools – assuring representatives from all sectors and degrees of selectivity and from a socio-economically diverse collection of schools.
  3.  Create a process whereby representatives on the Task Force are elected by the NACAC membership. Those interested in serving on this national Task Force can petition for candidacy. A chair would be elected by the membership of the Task Force
  4.  Develop a timeline for task completion with feedback requested along the way.

 

In all my years in higher education, one thing I have learned is that studies and discussions are necessary for progress, but they are hardly sufficient. Very little can be accomplished unless a broadly representative and generally accepted group of professionals work together on a solution. In doing so, however, we must be mindful of the young lives we are impacting and sensitive to the needs of all students seeking to further their education. So let’s take organized action now using our national association to structure a representative group to address the issues around college admission. If we do so, successful change will have a fighting chance.