Encouraging disadvantaged students to achieve their dreams

Kiera McGee, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 28 a coalition of 80 progressive colleges and universities announced that they would implement a free online tool in 2016 to assist disadvantaged students through the college admission process. The group, dubbed the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, is composed of both private and public schools that offer either affordable tuition or sufficient need-based financial aid to meet the needs of their students.

While the exact details of the new system are still being discussed, it will be “equipped with online tools designed to empower [disadvantaged] students, in part by helping them find well-­endowed colleges and encouraging them to hone their qualifications and admissions savvy throughout high school,” The Atlantic’s Laura McKenna said. The new system also hopes to combat the glitches and technological issues that the Common App has suffered from in the past. All coalition schools are required to have a graduation rate of at least 70 percent within six years, although most of the colleges boast much higher rates. The goal of the program is to introduce disadvantaged students to affordable, competitive colleges that may have previously seemed unattainable.
A 2013 study by economists Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery revealed that the majority of low-­income students do not apply to selective colleges due to a lack of information about the application process. The students believe that they will not be able to afford the costs of attending a competitive school, neglecting to realize that most of those colleges offer far more scholarships and need-based aid than their less exclusive counterparts. Referring to this common dilemma as “undermatching,” Hoxby and Avery reported that low­-income students attending the most competitive colleges in the 2009-­2010 academic year were paying an average annual out-­of-­pocket cost of only $6,754, while these students would pay $23,813 at a lower-­ranked school.
The coalition’s new system is comprised of three main elements that are intended to match students to the best, most cost-­effective colleges that are within their reach. The first component is a digital portfolio, or “locker,” where students can upload examples of their work and begin chronicling information about themselves. The locker will help students stay organized and start focusing on how they wish to present themselves to college admissions officers. The second component is referred to as a “collaboration platform” and allows students to share the contents of their lockers with those who can help guide them in the admissions process, such as school counselors, parents, and teachers. The third component allows students to actually submit their applications to colleges and universities.
Since its introduction, many have criticized the concept of the coalition system. A common denunciation is that the system is located entirely on the Internet, which disadvantaged students are less likely to have access to. Since the program is primarily based upon the notion that low­-income applicants have fewer mentors to turn to for support, some are confused by the sharing tool of the collaboration platform, which cannot be utilized if students have no one to share their work with.
While I agree that the system currently fails to address these issues, the sheer creation of the coalition gives me hope for the future of disadvantaged students applying to college. It would be close to impossible to implement such a widespread system without the use of the Internet, and the program may offer online mentors in the future. Critics are also worried about corruption of the program by wealthy families, and fear that it forces students to think about college too early; unfortunately, the potential for these issues to occur is inevitable. Since the system has not even been launched yet, I would personally reserve any criticism until its inauguration.
As a low-income student myself, I would not be able to attend this University without the generous scholarships and need­-based aid that the school has offered me for the past three years. I was fortunate to have a mother and a guidance counselor who encouraged me to apply to the schools of my dreams regardless of their tuition costs, but many students in similar situations are not as lucky. The college application process is complex and stressful, allowing many amazing, unassisted students to fall through the cracks. While the coalition system may have its obligatory flaws, I commend the 80 colleges and universities who joined together in an effort to help students like myself. As a high school student, I would have greatly appreciated the helpful features that the system offers, regardless of whether or not they were flawless. The University is not yet a member of the coalition, but I hope that one day we join its ranks of honorable universities.
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