Software company tries ‘flipping the script’ on college applications

What if universities pursued and applied for students, rather than the other way around? According to Concourse, an online platform designed to support that approach, “flipping the script on the admissions process” could broaden students’ opportunities, reduce strain on counselors, and help universities diversify their campuses.

Inside Higher Ed recently highlighted the private software company, which two years ago created a different model for international students looking to attend universities in the U.S. and abroad. Through Concourse, students create a single portfolio containing their grades, academic and extracurricular interests, financial needs, and test scores. The information is certified by college counselors registered with Concourse and is then made available to admissions officers at partner colleges, who review the anonymous profiles and make competing admissions and financial aid offers. After receiving offers, students may then decide to share their names and contact information for further discussion.

In the last year, 2,091 international students have used Concourse. Last fall, the company began to focus on the U.S. market in a new initiative involving 658 low-income Chicago students. The program, supported by the education firm EAB, recruited nine Midwestern partner institutions, including National Louis University and Hope College.

Concourse offered its services to U.S. students for free, and partner colleges pay Concourse $100 for each U.S. student they admit. International students are charged $75, with fee waivers available, and colleges paying $150 to $200 per student they admit. Participating students receive an average of 5.8 offers of admission, with 60% of those offers including scholarships, the company says.

Related: Competitive colleges post record-low acceptance rates as regional schools struggle to fill seats >

Reducing barriers for low-income and first-gen students

Concourse’s CEO Joe Morrison, in his previous work helping universities recruit international students, observed how much time and money the traditional college admissions process required. The complexity and information overload creates hurdles for low-income, minority, and first-generation students, educators tell Inside Higher Ed. When low-income students do apply to college, they may attend colleges that are less-competitive and have fewer resources than their wealthier peers would attend, an experience known as undermatching.

Keith Hebert, who is the director of postsecondary efforts for Civitas Education Partners in Chicago and helped recruit students to participate in the Concourse initiative, says the platform helped students make productive connections with potential colleges. Of the 150 students Hebert brought into the fold, 75% received acceptance letters and a total of $18.1 million in scholarship money based on online portfolios that were completed in under 30 minutes.

It was “huge for first-gen kids to find a place they not only will be able to afford, but also to know, ‘Hey, I’ll be comfortable here and successful,’” Hebert says. Through its student-centered approach, Concourse may be “an innovative, possibly disruptive, approach to connecting students with colleges and vice versa,” says ​​David Hawkins, chief education and policy officer for the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Building on the results of the Chicago initiative, Morrison plans to expand Concourse to other cities this fall in hopes of reaching more underserved students.

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