Encouraging underprivileged students with the Common App

ABERMAN: Well, tell me about the Common Application. What is it, and what does it do?

RICKARD:Well as you mentioned, we’re an online application platform, but what a lot of people don’t know is that we were started over 40 years ago by some college counselors and admissions deans who wanted to simply reduce barriers to access to college. And that, as you can imagine, was during a time when it was a paper application, and students were starting to apply to more schools, but needing to continually repeat filling out handwriting, or typing, and mailing in a form, had become pretty cumbersome.

So, those individuals decided, why don’t we take a look and see what we all have in common, and then use the latest technology of the time, the photocopier, and provide an option for students to really streamline the process, as well as give schools the opportunity to get their name in front of students in geographic areas that students might not have been familiar with them? So, it’s really, we’re really fundamentally about reducing barriers to access to college.

ABERMAN: Now, my view of this is that, these days, students want to apply to 7, 10, 12 different schools. It becomes very much a shotgun process, but it’s incredibly expensive and time consuming. So, does something like the Common Application basically level the playing field? Because you know, if I’m a student working a part time job after school, because I have to support my family, for example, I don’t have the time to do 12 applications. I mean, is this how it levels it, or does it also level it because it’s somehow cheaper to apply? I mean, how does it help with access?

RICKARD: Yeah, let me tell you some of the things that we’ve been doing. But first, let me share that the average number of applications that a student submits through the Common Application is 4.6, but there are certainly some students who do that, but just to give us a kind of the averages. But then, part of our platform, in terms of the opportunities that we provide, we have, as part of the tool, a common fee waiver. So a student, who has financial need, can indicate so, in the Common Application, just once, and that fee waiver will work for any of the schools to which they’re applying.

Subscribe to the What’s Working in Washington podcast on iTunes.

So, it’s the idea of having them only have to say they need a fee waiver once, and then have that work across the membership. And last year, our members awarded 65 million dollars worth of fee waivers through the Common Application Platform. So, that’s one way. Another way is, we did some research, and found that when students are thinking about affordability and finances, it’s actually when they’re in the Common Application.

So, a few years ago, we added in some financial resources and tools for students, in addition to integration to a scholarship platform called Scholar Snap, where students can, from the Common App, go directly into this resource to apply for scholarships, without having to repeat entering their name and all of that. So, trying to give students access to the financial resources that they might need to be able to pursue their education, and also other supports.

In addition, for students who are fee waiver eligible, we have another partnership with an organization called Strive for College, which is a virtual mentoring organization. And a student can opt in to being paired with a mentor through Strive for College. So, actually having a human being help support them and guide them through the process

ABERMAN: These days, I find that a lot of the conversations about university education that I hear is centered more along, oh, we should not have so many people going through college, because well, let’s face it, all these BAs don’t have jobs. I hear that nonsense, frankly, a lot. Clearly that’s not your view. What’s your view about why people should be pursuing a collegiate education?

RICKARD: My view is, every student should have the right and the opportunity to gain post-secondary education, if that’s something that they want, because there is no better education to be able to prepare you for how the world is changing at a rapid pace. Having that education behind you, and that opportunity, and those experiences, is what will sustain people into the future, and help them achieve their goals and our society.

ABERMAN: I completely agree. I think you can’t really contemplate having a democracy unless you educate people, and people have the opportunity to participate in what it means to be part of the governed.

RICKARD: Absolutely. And one of the really exciting recent initiatives with the Common Application, is having joined with a program called Reach Higher, which was developed by former First Lady Michelle Obama during her time in the White House, with the whole goal of wanting to create a college-going culture among underrepresented and low income students. So, students could see that college was possible, and that they did belong in college.

So, really really reducing the social and systemic barriers that prevent a student from even thinking about college. We’re now partnered, and one team, where the Reach Higher team can help channel and inspire students to apply to college, and then once the student gets to the Common App, we reduce the barriers to continuing in that process. So, we’re really excited about about the great potential we have for really reaching out to many more students, and then helping them navigate the college admissions process.

ABERMAN: If I’m listening to this, and I’ve got a student who’s getting ready to go to college, do they go to a website, Common Application dot com, and go through that, or how does this actually work?

RICKARD: There’s actually one website: commonapp.org, and a student can go in there and explore any number of our over 800 college and university members. So, it’s a significant, incredibly diverse population of schools, who serve students all around the country and around the world.

ABERMAN: Well, I’ll tell you what, I love hearing when people here in D.C. are making things happen. This is a great mission. Jenny Rickard, thanks for joining us today.

RICKARD: Great. Thank you, Jonathan.

Copyright © 2019 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.