Last year was in many ways the kickoff of direct admissions in the United States. The company Concourse set up a system for students to be considered by 10 colleges in the Chicago area, all colleges with strong track records at admitting and graduating low-income students, many of whom are minority students as well. The students create profiles of themselves with their grades and what they want to study, but the students don’t actually apply to a college. The colleges reach out to students they want to admit. More than 650 students were offered spots in college last year, with generous scholarships. The colleges were not among the elites of higher education, and that was not the program’s intent.
This year, Concourse has 125 colleges around various cities in the United States making admission offers, said Joe Morrison, the CEO. “And there are many more in the onboarding pipeline, which is growing rapidly,” he said.
Concourse was recently purchased by EAB. “We are getting inquiries daily from new institutions who want to join,” said Morrison.
The Common Application has been experimenting with direct admissions as well. This year, it will have 14 colleges involved and will start sharing student portfolios with the colleges on Nov. 1. The colleges are: Augsburg, Austin Peay State, Frostburg State, George Mason, Iona, Kean, Marymount, Montclair State, New Jersey City, Stockton and Virginia Commonwealth Universities; Mercy and Utica Colleges; and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Most of those colleges will go on with traditional admissions as well.
Sage Scholars, a company that has worked with students on their financial aid since 1995, is moving into the direct admissions space. Sage has 26 private institutions—including Hendrix College, Milliken University, Loyola University New Orleans and Washington & Jefferson College—signed up so far.
“We are sending, this week or next, about 6,000 hard-copy letters—two different messages—to parents, as we think that the parents are going to be very involved in this process,” said James B. Johnston, president of Sage.
He expects colleges to view the profiles “as a continuum, rather than a one-and-done event.”
One of the colleges participating in the Sage program is Goldey-Beacom College, in Delaware.
Colleen Perry Keith, the president of Goldey-Beacom, said via email, “We have had interest from students that have come to us from Sage.”
She added that “once we began the process of screening students to offer admission, we realized the number of students from which we could choose was much larger than we anticipated. This, of course, is a wonderful problem to have, but has set us back a step as we must determine how to narrow the field of students to whom we will reach out. We want the students to whom we extend offers to know they have been carefully chosen, and are not just one of thousands who have received offers of the ‘To Whom It May Concern’ variety.”
She added, “As this is a new endeavor for us, we want to start on the right foot, and we should begin extending our first offers the first week in November. We want to strike early, but not before we have developed a sensible plan that serves these students and the college well. We rolled our annual tuition back to $13,050 (our endowment is quite large for a college our size so we fund that from endowment earnings) and offer aid on top of that so we suspect we will be an interesting and financially viable option for Sage Scholars.”
One of the states with the most movement toward direct admissions this year is Minnesota. For the first year, Minnesota offered every high school the chance to participate—40 are participating. Over 50 colleges and universities—public, private and tribally controlled, two year and four year—are opting in.
“Currently, about half of the participating high schools have sent out letters to their students,” said Keith Hovis of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. “As with any new program, we are working through processes during this first round of implementation and ensuring we have all the contracts and paperwork in place. We are working closely with the remaining high schools who have not sent out letters yet and believe they should be able to send out their letters in the next few weeks. These letters provide each student with a personalized list of colleges that are proactively offering that student admittance. The student is then able to fill out an application for the college of their choice, and we are excited to say that the application fee is waived for the application, removing one more financial barrier for the student.”
Alyson Leas, director of admissions at the University of Minnesota at Crookston, which plans to seek applicants through direct admissions this year, said she’s still waiting for the Office of Higher Education to send her the potential students.
But she said via email that she’s thrilled with the program. “When the idea of direct admission was proposed, I think many colleges had the knee-jerk reaction of ‘It will never work!’ I was ecstatic, though. When you boil it down, how many of us are doing direct admissions by a different name? If a student gives an admissions counselor a copy of their transcript, that counselor can almost always tell that student right then and there whether or not they will be accepted. All the application is doing is confirming some information that can largely be found on the transcript and getting our communications team some things they’d like to know for targeting.
“Direct admissions is taking away two obstacles from students. One being those students who have already told themselves they could never get into a college and the second obstacle being having time to complete an application. We in the industry know an application (without essay) can take less than 30 minutes, but students don’t know that. It’s a process that’s been hyped up their entire lives. This system allows them to go from ‘Do I have the time to go through an application? Will I even get in?’ to ‘Oh. I’m in.’”
All In at Augsburg
Augsburg University isn’t waiting for the Office of Higher Education, said Robert J. Gould, vice president for strategic enrollment management.
“We are so excited about this,” he said. “We’re all in on direct admissions.”
Most colleges start with just admitting some applicants through direct admission, keeping traditional admissions for now. But Augsburg is shifting all applications to direct admissions. The university will be in the Common App’s program and the state of Minnesota’s. But the college has also made it possible for anyone with a profile that’s ready to let Augsburg know that they would like to be reviewed.
So far, 639 students have done so. Compared to last year, that’s a 70 percent increase.
Augsburg has admitted 487, compared with 150 a year ago.
Gould said the average time to respond to a student has been seven minutes.
He said he’s uncertain about yield this year but assumes it will be less than it has been. But he’s willing to have uncertainty about yield.
Augsburg admissions counselors are shifting their time from reviewing applications to talking to those admitted about the university and what the students hope to accomplish there. Those are the discussions that motivated many of them to become admissions counselors, he said.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gould said.