Elite Colleges Create “Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success”

by Ines Zippe

My friend Katy Kaufman texted me yesterday, “Guess what? Just finished my CommonApp!” Not really sure what that is, but trying to be a supportive friend, I replied, “Woo! Go KTK! Congrats”. At HB, college is a forgone conclusion; if we put in the effort and take advantage of our opportunities, we’ll have options and satisfying results. We don’t think about college in a “yes” way; we think about it in a “yes and where” way. During the college process, waves of stress and success fill our lives, but at least we feel the salt on our skin. Some students in America don’t even get their feet wet, residing too far from the shore. This is part of the reason why 80 colleges, including Ivy Leagues and other elite schools, have collaborated in creating a website that offers information and guidance about the college process to those set at this disadvantage. This website answers questions from financial aid to application requirements, and calls itself the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. The so-called purpose of the coalition is to even the playing field for applicants, counteracting the current unequal system of college admissions.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes about this new website, in article titled “An Admissions Surprise From the Ivy League.” In it he takes a cautious, realistic approach, remarking the good a website like this would do but also questioning the true intentions behind it. Though the website is clearly made to help underprivileged students, the article also explain that its motives are perhaps selfish, for the coalition only contains select schools and is not admitting others. The article backs Jon Boeckenstedt, vice president of enrollment management and marketing at Depaul University, who claims, “A group of America’s most high-profile private colleges, already obsessed with prestige, are attempting to grab more,” referring to the fact that these elite schools want first rate access to talented, underprivileged students. Through this, the website is simply another source of competition.

I think if the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success were completely honest about their true intentions for creating the website, a part of it would be their wish to increase their diversity percentages. However, I don’t believe this intent is something to be condemned: like students compete for spots at colleges, colleges compete for students. Similar to Hathaway Brown, colleges are private institutions that need to attract students to get adequate funding. If colleges outside of the coalition feel hurt by their exclusivity, including Depaul, they can develop their own group to counteract the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success..

While I disagree with the article that it is wrong for these schools to have selfish motives, I do agree with Bruni that a website will not fix the major problem. Bruni points out the obvious with, “As it stands now, the country’s most selective colleges are dominated by students from affluent backgrounds,” showing how those who can afford private schools, private tutoring, and expensive colleges are the ones to populate elite colleges. Those in the regular American education system frankly attend schools of lesser quality, and therefore deliver lower test scores and poorer transcripts. Unfortunately, because of this populations at the “best” colleges don’t reflect American society. A website is not going to balance percentages: the American public school system as a whole must be reviewed. However, looking at it optimistically, Bruni states, “there are many lower income families who could handle the work at leading colleges and get ample financial aid often don’t realize it,” emphasizing how this website will spread uncommon knowledge. In addition, the first step to any change is recognizing there is a problem, and this is what the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is doing.

Another note about this article that struck me is the impact this coalition will have on the advantaged. The coalition encourages everyone to explore the website, despite being primarily targeted towards the under-resourced. The article does not take a clear attitude towards this point, but I believe affluent families will appreciate any opportunity to lower college preparation costs, such as tutors. However, considering the website’s intent is to inform students about colleges in grades nine and ten, I side with Bruni that the “frenzied, freaked-out world of college admission” is about to grow tenser. Students will be forced to worry about college all four years of high school, not just the traditional two. On the other hand, a point Bruni does not mention, is that perhaps the college process will be less stressful for seniors if they have prepared for it largely in advance.

Katy Kaufman would probably have thanked herself if she’d done her CommonApp over the summer. Nonetheless, tension also surrounds the growing fact that with a level playing field, “privileged” students and guidance counselors working at private high schools are about to encounter unfamiliar competition. Bruni comments, “You can imagine how much commotion this development generated among obsessed parents, overburdened guidance,” explaining how parents and students, already competing among themselves and working extremely hard, will now enter a more diversified pool. While I believe this will cause unrest, my personal reaction towards the website as a whole is positive. I am simply lucky to have the life I live and attend HB. It is unfair that others are not so lucky, and even if this website is a small step, it is a step in the right direction.