October 30, 2015
More than 80 colleges — including all eight Ivy League schools, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia — formed the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success in late September to provide an alternative to the Common Application. Although Georgetown’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions was part of the initial discussion, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon said Georgetown will continue to use its separate application system, explaining that the coalition makes applying to colleges more complicated and less helpful to low-income students.
The coalition is developing a new admissions application that it plans to launch in January. Universities will accept both the Coalition Application and the Common Application. The new site will contain three components — an online “locker” portfolio, a collaboration element and an application portal. The locker will store material from high school courses, accessible for students starting in ninth grade. Students can share selected documents with teachers, counsellors and mentors through the collaboration platform. When students begin the application process, they can attach materials from their lockers to submit to colleges.
According to a coalition press release from Sept. 28, the purpose of familiarizing students with the process at an early age should minimize stress during the actual application process and provide a counseling resource for low-income applicants.
“In creating this platform, these colleges and universities hope to recast the college admission process from something that is transactional and limited in time into a more engaged, ongoing and educationally reaffirming experience,” the coalition wrote in the press release. “They also hope to motivate a stronger college-going mindset among students of all backgrounds, especially those from low-income families or underrepresented groups who have historically had less access to leading colleges and universities.”
However, critics of the coalition argue it will complicate instead of improve accessibility for low-income students. Deacon said he was a part of the original discussions exploring the idea of the coalition after technical complications with the Common Application arose in October 2013. However, the coalition evolved with more expansive ideas than Deacon originally considered.
“We were interested in the discussions, only because we thought it could end up being a very small group of schools that essentially are highly selective and may therefore have a different set of questions that they want to ask than say, the University of Maryland might want to ask,” Deacon said. “But now they’ve taken it and run with it a bit. Where they’ve run is in somewhat questionable territory.”
Deacon said he believes the coalition is overstating its ability to help low-income students, citing its complicated three-part format.
“I think that they’re overlying it with the intention to help low-income students but that’s not really what it’s all intended to do,” Deacon said. “It could be that that would work. But right now, it doesn’t seem like it would — obviously because it’s actually a more complicated application rather than a simpler one.”
Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based business that assists students in the admissions process for highly selective schools, considers the coalition detrimental to the admissions process.
“We think that the Coalition for Access is a mistake, and we think that the colleges that agreed to be part of the coalition agreed to that very prematurely,” Taylor said. “The coalition itself is half-baked. There are so many parts of the coalition that don’t even make sense.”
Although Taylor acknowledged that the coalition would likely benefit the private college counseling business, he stressed that underprivileged students often do not have access to private college counselors.
Taylor said the coalition’s program for college applications contradicts its stated goals of helping low-income students.
“The whole objective of the coalition is to improve access for underrepresented minorities and for low-income students. And that’s great. Lots of colleges, lots of highly selective ones, love that. Georgetown, of course, wants to appeal to disadvantaged students and to people who come from high schools where they don’t actually have great college counselling,” Taylor said. “But, the proposal for the coalition doesn’t address that at all. In fact, it does the complete opposite.”
However, coalition spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus maintained that the program is specifically designed to instill a college-centered mindset in low-income students as a means of helping them in the admissions process.
“One of the things we do want to say is that we are committed to providing students with the best possible college experience,” Sainvilus said. “The research is clear for low-income and underrepresented students that earlier engagement and being part of a college-going culture is critical to their success in the college admissions process.”
Georgetown Scholarship Program Director Missy Foy (COL ’03) also raised concerns about the pressure that could arise from the emphasis of the process on an early start.
“I fear that this new application process, where students can begin building a portfolio in 9th grade, could perpetuate that stress and start it even sooner,” Foy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Meanwhile, low-income students may not utilize it.”
In order to qualify for the coalition, public universities must have need-based financial aid for in-state residents and private institutions must meet the full, demonstrated financial need of admitted students. Colleges in the coalition are also required to have a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or more, a condition Georgetown would meet.
The majority of the schools that have joined the coalition are not need-blind, meaning they take into account a student’s financial aid needs when determining admission. Georgetown’s need-blind admission process considers applicants without regard for their ability to pay, and provides a full financial aid package for each admitted student’s demosntrated need.
Deacon said these colleges in the coalition are not fully committed to assisting low-income students.
“There’s kind of a hypocrisy there where you’re calling this something for low-income when in fact, the schools that are in it actually give money to people who don’t need it and don’t meet the full need of those who do,” Deacon said. “They figure out a way to be inclusive but it really is a misnomer to think that these schools are all committed to meeting the full need of students.”
Deacon said Georgetown’s decision to abstain from the coalition is not an indication of any unwillingness to assist low-income students. According to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions website, the university’s financial aid packages include subsidized student loans, part-time student jobs and, if required, a scholarship to meet the remainder of student need. Georgetown has met full demonstrated need for domestic undergraduates for the past 30 years
The GSP provides support to 1789 Scholarship students through access to an alumni network, career and academic help, mentorship programs and campus support.
“The only reason that I even say anything about the low-income thing is that I don’t want people to think that we’re not interested in recruiting low-income students,” Deacon said. “In fact, we think that just the reverse is going to happen — that it’s going to be harder for low-income students applying to these schools because they’re making it more complicated.