New Coalition To Encourage Talented, But Poor Students To Apply To More Competitive Schools

The lack of diversity in secondary education has recently been coming to light all over the country, with protests and outrage coming from Yale, University of Missouri, Occidental, Ahmerst, Claremont McKenna and Ithaca. For some students, the problem begins right at the application process. The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has partnered with 83 schools across the country, including Harvard, Brown, Cornell and Princeton, to provide all students with the same opportunities to attend college.

Courtney McAnuff, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Rutgers, sat down with DiversityInc to give some more insight as to why the program is necessary and what its goals are. Mr. McAnuff has been involved with The Coalition since its very early planning stages several years ago.

Research shows that high-achieving students from low-income families consistently apply to non-selective colleges or universities simply because they don’t think they can afford it. According to Mr. McAnuff, the problem can be a lack of information about financial aid. “When you see a tuition bill of $40,000 or $50,000 and you’re only making $30,000 it’s staggering,” he explained. “It’s not something you think will happen to you without a clear understanding of financial aid.”

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The reality, however, is the complete opposite. In most cases, more selective schools offer even more generous financial aid packages than less selective schools because they have greater funds than their counterparts.

The lack of understanding comes from high schools as well, where students are not provided with the necessary resources or materials. “I actually do think a lot of that is advising,” he said. “I think the advising student ratio is so poor that the advisers spend more time on disciplining or scheduling and spend little time on college advising.”

Unfortunately, since most of these students don’t acquire the necessary knowledge or resources, they simply don’t apply to more elite schools even the ones in their academic reach. This is where The Coalition will come into play.

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The Coalition is in the process of developing a free online platform scheduled to launch in April 2016 that will assist students with the college application process. The program is geared towards freshmen, sophomores and juniors in high school.

“We decided that we would create our own platform that would be very viable and supportive … [to] allow students to enter the platform early and create their portfolio,” Mr. McAnuff said. “They can share with parents, they can share with counselors, or they can ask universities for advice through the portfolio. But universities can only give feedback if the information is given to them.”

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The portfolio contains the student’s documents that will aid them through the application process. These can be pieces of classwork, lists of colleges they are interested in or any various notes. The goal is that these materials will be gathered overtime rather than needing to put everything together during senior year.

The idea was to give low-income or resource students the same opportunities as other students “to elite privates like Stanford and Princeton as well as large publics such as Michigan and Rutgers,” Mr. McAnuff described. “[And] we wanted something a little different from the Common Application that was more responsive to technology.”

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The Coalition is currently comprised of a mix of private and public colleges and universities, and more schools are welcome to join. In order to participate, a public school must have affordable tuition as well as need-based financial aid for in-state students, and a private school must be able to fully meet the financial need of every student they admit. The schools must also graduate at least 70 percent of their students within six years.

The idea for the program came when researchers from different universities saw a clear need for it. “There was a report by Caroline Hoxby that came out of Stanford that indicated that as many as 30,000 poor students, both urban and rural, who could’ve gotten admitted to the Ivy League schools never even applied and wound up going to community colleges for various reasons,” Mr. McAnuff explained. “But a lot of it was around advising and having the resources to let them know how talented they were.”

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The point of the program is not to give increased popularity to the schools, Mr. McAnuff explained. “It’s not about increasing applications,” he said. “The idea is to just allow access to a very broad, diverse group. We think a great educational experience happens when people are surrounded by people of different cultures, different backgrounds, and different races. That’s the individual that employers are going to want to hire because they will have had experiences not just with people like themselves, but with a society that mirrors the world.”

Ideally, the program will also be a valuable tool given the protests occurring on campuses all over the country regarding the lack of diversity at colleges.

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“What I think it will do is allow schools to enroll a more critical mass of students,” Mr. McAnuff said. “Often times many of the schools are trying to attract students of colors, low-income students, but they don’t do so in sufficient numbers. So in many cases students feel singled out because of race or economic background because they feel alone.”

The program is still in its early stages, but Mr. McAnuff hopes to spread the program and help as many students as possible attain the education they deserve. “Sometimes we look at the numbers and they seem overwhelming, but if you can change just one person’s life, it’s pretty great,” he said.

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