Rejected at Common App

After a difficult year with technology glitches, board decides that it's time for a new executive director. Outgoing leader of group says he is being treated as a scapegoat.

February 27, 2014

The Common Application announced Wednesday that Rob Killion had stepped down -- at the board's request -- as executive director of the organization.

The 10 years that Killion led the organization were a period of tremendous growth for the Common App, which now has 517 colleges as participants, more than double the 255 institutions that were members when he started.

The Common App became the norm for applying to competitive private colleges and also gained ground in public higher education. Many colleges that joined the Common Application credited the organization with helping them attract many more applicants, and better manage the application process.

But this fall, new software set up by the Common Application had a series of glitches, leaving many applicants and many colleges furious about delays in submitting and reviewing applications.

In an interview, Thyra Briggs, president of the Common Application board and vice president for admission and financial aid at Harvey Mudd College, said that the board sought the change. "The board talked to him about how there needed to be a leadership transition," she said.

But Briggs denied that the change had anything to do with the technology problems associated with the launch of the new system. She said that the need for new leadership related to the Common Application moving from a virtual office situation, with leaders spread out, to one in which most employees would be working together in an office in the Washington suburbs.

Pushed on that as the rationale, given that Killion has been talking about that shift and planning it for several years, she insisted that his departure had nothing to do with technology problems.

In an interview, Killion suggested that his ouster was unfair. "The Common Application Board of Directors appears to be making me the scapegoat for their decisions to hire Hobsons to build the new online system while becoming independent from Hobsons at the same time," he said. "I will have much more to say publicly about this soon." (Hobsons could not be reached for comment.)

He added that he had been "a good soldier for decisions made by the Common Application board."

Briggs, the board president, while insisting that the tech fiascoes were not the instigator for Wednesday's news, said that the organization could have done better this fall. "As it was unraveling we were determining what all the issues were," she said. "There were ways we could have responded more quickly."

The Common Application has hired a consulting group to study what went wrong.

The difficulties were particularly evident, and caused the most complaints, last September and October, as early decision deadlines approached and many applicants said that they couldn't file on time. Many colleges pushed back deadlines as a result.

After initially resisting the idea that there were serious problems, the Common Application started to apologize. Things were calmer as the deadlines for regular decision approached.

As of now, three senior Common App employees, together with the board, are running the organization.


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