The Coalition for Access, Affordability & Success: Unrigging the System?

The recently announced Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success intends nothing less than to profoundly change the way students are reviewed and selected for college admissions. The Coalition’s 80 schools aim to diversify their student bodies by re-engineering the college admissions process. Inaugural members of the Coalition include all Ivy League schools, Duke, Stanford, University of Virginia, Bowdoin and Pomona.

Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of largely "indistinguishable" and “homogeneous” applications received each year, this diverse group of public, private, large and small colleges is sending out a clear and powerful message. The time has come to reimagine the college entry process as traditional metrics no longer provide an objective basis for fair and inclusive decisions. Perhaps these schools contributed to the current problem by wanting to appear more selective in the eyes of US News and World Report's college rankings. The Common Application proved to be the perfect accomplice by providing students with the ability to apply to as many schools as possible without too much incremental thought, cost or effort. The sheer volume of college applications generated by the Common Application ultimately stretched the limits of grades and test scores as fair measuring and assessment tools. As with so many other examples, this new technology made the traditional college metrics obsolete.

The Coalition also takes aim at a system that was rigged too long in favor of the affluent. Think about the talented students who are obligated to spend time taking care of their siblings or holding down jobs to help support their families. Think about the talented students who are enrolled at schools unable to afford the extracurricular activities and support functions found in more affluent areas. These are the students most hindered by the traditional admissions approach. Thinking they need excellent GPAs, top 10% SAT scores and exotic activities to compete, they are understandably intimidated by the current system. The traditional college application metrics of GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, extracurriculars and personal essays were easily manipulated by “paid-for” results. Like cosmetic surgery, everything looked good and held up on the outside but often failed to reflect authentic and meaningful information about the individual applicant. By removing the inherent advantages facilitated by affluence and opening up ways for students to be assessed beyond the “numbers,” the Coalition’s plan might just work to level the playing field and encourage more underrepresented students to get accepted to the Coalition's colleges.

The Coalition is encouraging all college bound high school students to start the college process as early as freshman year. Promising a process that is more informative, collaborative and transparent, the Coalition will be introducing a critical new component into the process. This component is called the student vault, a digital repository of actual work where students can build a living digital portfolio for review by colleges admissions personnel.

Social media has shown the world the powerful and persuasive capabilities of a digital presence. For years, colleges have been looking at social media to learn more about applicants so formalizing this approach is no surprise. What is somewhat surprising is the Coalition's decision to build their own proprietary system from scratch rather than simply choosing to formally incorporate public and popular social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram into the admissions process.

The Coalition's new college application will try to turn the attention back to the student's day-to day high school academics, activities and achievements. Genuineness, character, capability, commitment, intellectual curiosity and potential will be communicated to colleges via the digital portfolio unfettered by outside influences. This is a powerful paradigm shift that needs to be understood by all students, parents and high schools and will demand an emphasis on digital education.

What should be clear is that the schools of the Coalition will have a vested interest in their new application. Although students will still be free to use the Common App, why would they? High school students, especially juniors, need to understand the precepts of the Coalition Application and start working towards building a portfolio of work in advance of their senior year. This will not be easy since the Coalition App has not been embraced by the high school guidance counselor community.

Change is not an easy thing to process and old habits die hard. Unfortunately, very few will be encouraged to get up to speed on LinkedIn where they can practice building their digital portfolio and learn how to present their activities and accomplishments effectively through digital media.

There are still many questions that need to be answered about the Coalition and its application but hopefully, once all the details are ironed out, this new method will level the playing field and create equal opportunity for all.