Since the Coalition Application was announced in September, it has spurred significant press, healthy debate, and at times, heated criticism. Let me be clear: I do not work for The Coalition Application. So just as much as we tell students not to take one tour guide’s voice as gospel, please know this is not intended to be inclusive of all members, nor is it the “party line.”
What It Is (always wanted to be able to use that phrase in an article, so we’re off to a good start):
1) The Coalition Application is an alternative to The Common Application. It is not meant to replace The Common App, nor will it. It is another application option which provides relief for some schools that previously had a “single point of failure with only one application (which, as you may recall, created difficulty in 2013 when Common App struggled in initial launch).
2) It is a platform that brings together a significant number of colleges and universities, rather than proliferating disparate applications for individual institutions. That union is positive because it creates a larger college landscape for students and encourages breadth of consideration. Whether you work at a private or a public school, whether urban or rural, whether elite or Title I, we all want our students to look beyond the places they’ve always known. Isn’t that partially what college is all about: vision, options, and expanding horizons?
3) It is a group of schools that have had success on many levels in the landscape of American higher education. These places have some of our nation’s best support networks, internship programs, and retention rates. In the South specifically, it includes schools like Clemson, NC State, and UGA (who previously were not members of the Common Application); all schools that have made phenomenal commitments to student access, diversity, support, and success consistently throughout their histories.
My high school alma mater, like many urban public schools, had an abysmal counselor: student ratio. Counselors had a only a few minutes during a student’s entire high school career to discuss post-secondary options. Talented low SES students were often told to look at the local community college or the military, and perhaps college later. Today that’s still happening. It takes approximately 10 seconds to tell a student: “If you apply to one of these schools, you may not get in, but if you do, you will have access to the help you need, likely graduate on time, and will not be burdened by debt when you finish.” I realize a myriad of societal forces encroach between that advice and college matriculation, but the “elevator speech” is practical.
What It is Not:
1) I wrote this upon the initial announcement: “The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is not a panacea. Not all low SES students will even hear of this platform and option, let alone successfully use it to be admitted to a top tier school.” Some of the most passionate ire surrounds incorporating the word “access.” This is a goal. It is aspirational. And it’s very public. That’s all positive, because it motivates member schools to produce classes that reflect their participation.
2) It is not going to completely transform our nation’s socio-economic strata. However, what if, between adjustments The Common Application makes due to increased pressure, and the gravity, influence, and investment of Coalition Schools in this new platform, more Pell-eligible students graduate with lower average debt? What if more students from rural communities apply to and ultimately attend schools where they’re now noticeably absent? That would be a successful shift. That would be a step toward transforming the demographic picture of higher education in America. And that is a step worth attempting.
3) It is not going to to ruin a student’s high school experience. I’ve read hyperbolic phrases like “landmine,” “catastrophic” or “tossing a grenade.” The ability for a student to save some of their best work during high school in a central place that can be pulled into a college application is potentially fatal? Many feel that informing freshman (and their parents) they can do these things will elongate the admission process; that it will “strip” them of their high school career; that it will overwhelm counselors in schools who have high demand parents and communities. I don’t doubt some of those scenarios could play out. But those manifestations are due to culture. In “college preparatory schools” and “college going cultures,” educators educate. You put parameters in place that help your community navigate and thrive in the college admission process. Continue to set the rules, provide the insight, and be the expert. Tell your headmaster or principal or superintendent what you need to succeed. Sound hopeless? Sound impossible? Sound unlikely? Culture is big. Shifting it takes leadership and unified community commitment… and time. But who has a better chance of doing that: A school focused almost exclusively on sending students to college or one with a 450:1 counselor to student ratio where most parents did not attend college and things are the same way now as they were 20 years ago? If creating a platform, rather than merely an application, can help move the needle on college awareness, yet creates some turbulence, I’d contend we’re all better off.
What I Don’t Know: Lots. Seriously, lots. Not sure how Donald Trump can still be viable in election discussion; not sure how to respond when my four year-old daughter tells me she is going to move to California if I keep saying I love her; not sure about a lot acronyms I see on Twitter; so, again…lots.
What I Know: Students take their cues from us. We owe them sound advice, vision, and an example that is worth following. We owe them a commitment to trying new things, to not being content with the status quo, and to finding solutions to problems that are worth solving. None of that happens alone. There has been far too much negative dialogue in our profession over the last year. Admit rates at selective schools are down, tuition rates nationally are up, and caseloads for everyone continue to escalate, so certainly there are quantitative factors. I implore everyone to consider how we interact in online forums; examine how the implications of phrases we use fan the flames of anxiety; and minimize common terms like “other side of the desk,” which, wrongly construed, can be unnecessarily divisive. Ultimately, we control the tone, the narrative, and the relationships. Let’s recommit to modeling for students, families, and the press that our field is committed to serving students with authenticity through professionalism.