Annie Reznik has been on the job as executive director at the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success for a little less than a year and is more optimistic than ever about the impact the organization can have on the way students apply to college. Her belief in the importance of the Coalition’s mission to reach under-resourced schools with high populations of lower-income students recently received a terrific boost from former First Lady Michelle Obama, who included a shout-out to the Coalition in her final public remarks.
Looking to the future of the Coalition, which will include well over 100 active member colleges and universities in 2017-18, Reznik recently took a moment to reflect on the various successes and challenges of the past year:
How would you characterize your first year of operations?
I am really pleased with our first year! There is always room for improvement, but I am glad that we were able to deliver a positive experience for students and our member colleges.
Might you have done anything different? The application certainly has evolved over the course of the year. And of course, participation evolved…
I would have loved to have supported more of our members this year and look forward to having all of our members use the Coalition application next year.
What were some of your biggest challenges? Biggest successes?
I think that the biggest problem was helping students to understand that the Coalition system supports applications to more than one school—I am particularly concerned with improving this awareness and understanding for students who use the Coalition barrier-free fee waiver.
And I am really happy that the Coalition application has supported member goals to improve accessibility for students and diversify their application pool. As awareness about the Coalition increases, I hope that this success extrapolates across our membership.
I am also glad that we were able to help counselors by providing a free, simple, and student-centered resource to submit secondary school materials on behalf of students while also allowing counselors with a system in place to maintain their process without disruption.
One of the big announcements for next year is the change in eligibility criteria for member colleges and universities. Why did the Coalition decide to make this change?
In the fall of 2015, member colleges and universities of the Coalition expressed concerns about the eligibility criteria. Members were interested in a Coalition that incorporated a broader group of schools to better support college accessibility for students. Specifically, criticisms were raised that the previous eligibility criteria resulted in too few members with highly diverse student populations; concerned members noted there are ineligible colleges and universities that are great examples of providing access, while having respectable performance on affordability and graduation rates. And, the previous eligibility criteria limited in-state higher education options for most students. In response to the feedback, the Board of Directors began investigating a revision of the membership eligibility criteria. And, our membership’s wide approval is indicative of our members’ strong desire to make the adjustment.
What was the process for establishing the new eligibility criteria?
The Board announced last winter the formation of a Membership Task Force co-chaired by Zina Evans of the University of Florida and William Fitzsimmons of Harvard University. The Task Force recommended the eligibility standards that were unanimously endorsed by the Board of Directors and approved by our membership with a resounding 98% voting in favor of the proposed eligibility criteria earlier this month.
And what changes were made?
The new eligibility criteria establish minimum thresholds in each of the three pillars of our organization: access, affordability, and success. To be eligible, a college or university must meet minimum thresholds in all three areas while qualifying in at least two of the categories with solid metrics. A state’s public university campus with the highest metrics on these standards is automatically invited. A complete description of the new eligibility criteria is provided on the Coalition’s website.
How does an expanded membership benefit students?
The new criteria acknowledge the value of colleges and universities that have demonstrated successful outcomes for students from lower-resourced backgrounds—and signal this significance to students. Providing a Coalition higher education option for students in every state is also an important benefit for students. Additionally, the free tools that are a part of the Coalition platform will be of greater value to lower resourced students and organizations that support them. By increasing the number of opportunities for students work within the Platform and feed directly into the college application process, the Coalition increases opportunities for lower income students.
What do you expect the impact to be of the new criteria on the size/reach of the Coalition? About how many additional institutions do you think will now be eligible?
The new eligibility includes a much larger number of schools—just over 300 new schools are now eligible. We are committed to stable and principled growth. As a relatively new organization, we want to ensure proper on-boarding of new members. At this time, we do not plan to grow membership by more than 30% of our existing membership.
Have you already been contacted by potential new members since making your announcement?
Yes, we are excited to include new members. We have received a lot of interest in joining the Coalition from potential members. Over 100 newly eligible colleges and universities have reached out to learn more about the Coalition. Again, we do not plan to grow membership by more than 30% of our existing membership.
We plan to share a list of schools that will use the Coalition application next year (including new members) by May 1.
Have members any signaled to you that they will be Coalition “exclusive?” If so, can you say which those might be?
In addition to the University of Florida, the University of Maryland and the University of Washington have indicated that they will support a single application (the Coalition application) for next year.
Other than membership criteria, do you anticipate any major changes in the platform for the coming year?
We hope to make improvements and enhancements every year to both the technology platform and in how the Coalition supports members in their efforts to serve under-resourced students and families.
As the platform is already live and available, the technology will be ready for members to open their applications when it is appropriate for their institution. We believe in, and support, the individual and unique admissions processes and deadlines for each of our members—we are a membership driven organization. The earliest date that a Coalition application will open to students is July 1.
Nancy Griesemer is an independent educational consultant and founder of College Explorations LLC. She has written extensively and authoritatively about the college admissions process and related topics since 2009. Never miss one of Nancy’s articles – subscribe to her mailing list below.