How a Match.com for Students Could Make College Admissions Obsolete

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One in two 18-year-olds today won't go to college, and one in two who enroll will drop out. These are separate problems -- indifferent students and ill-matched students -- but one company called ConnectEDU is trying to solve both of them. They're building a national online dashboard to keep parents and students on the road to graduation and they're collecting data on achievement, graduation rates and employment to better match students with schools. The following essay by the founder and CEO of ConnectEDU is adapted from a conversation with The Atlantic.

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Here is what ConnectEDU wants to do in three steps. First, we want to pull data on every 7th to 12th grader, what classes they are in, how they are performing, and what are their aspirations. Second, we want to give them tools like an online dashboard to keep them on track with their goals and benchmark their progress against a plan that has them graduating on time from high school. Third, after college graduation, we want to stay in touch with them about gainful employment.

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Matching the right student with the right school is important. It's a huge part of what we do. But we also want to fix the problem before the matching process. For kids who don't have an advocate. For K-12 schools with a 500-1 student guidance counselor ratio. There are zip codes where college is an obsession for parents, and there are zip codes where parents and students who aren't even aware of all the things they don't know.


Take Detroit, for example. At one Detroit public school I saw, they didn't know if the students had taken the right math class in sophomore year until two weeks before graduation. That was a kid who said he wanted to go to college! Even when you're compelled to achieve, you need people to tell you where to enroll and what classes to take. That Detroit kid has to go back to high school for the summer. He doesn't graduate on time. He becomes a part of a statistic with a single-digit chance of completing college on time. Bad information doomed him.

'I FAILED MY KID'

One day, I go to open a ConnectEDU business account in Providence. I tell the woman at the bank what the company does. Her eyes are tearing up. She says, "I wish we would have had you four years ago."

Her son just graduated from Providence High School. That's a good college-track parochial high school. In the 7th grade, she and her husband were at a parents meeting and they were given the choice between putting their son on the College Prep trajectory or the Advanced College Prep. The big difference: If you're on Advanced, you complete high school with enough credits to graduate in three years. They're okay with him taking all four years, so they choose the regular path. He finishes with a 3.7. He's got decent SAT numbers. He applies to University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams competing against 60 other kids, most from the Advanced track. All 45 Advanced kids get in. All the Regular kids don't.

Think about that. A uninformed or misinformed decision this mother made at a parent teacher conference in 7th grade -- six years prior to his high school graduation! -- seems to have made all the difference in her son's future. She told me, 'I failed my kid.' This is personal to her. Now imagine if she had better information. What if she knew that nearly 100% of Providence High School grads on the Advanced track got into Roger Williams and nearly 100% of the regular kids didn't? She would have made an entirely different decision and she and her son would have been motivated in an informed way.

Now think about this: The mother at the bank desk is part of what's good about the system! She cares. She's trying to send her kid to college. She has the means to save. We need to help her. But we also need to multiply her by millions in those communities that don't even think about college as an option.

THE END OF ADMISSIONS?

The notion that you can live the American dream if you go to college is more complicated in real life. You have to go to college with the right debt to earnings ratio to have a shot at the American dream. We're trying to help students understand that intersection point.

Kevin Carey's great article about us in the Washington Monthly said we represent the "end of admissions." That's basically it. The dream is that students can go about their business and most of them shouldn't even to apply to schools, because an algorythm will have already told them and the schools where they would fit best. Why even write an essay? Take CUNY (City University of New York). They have to take students that graduate from NYC high schools. They know what profile you need to get into Hunter versus another school. So why do these students spend hours and hours applying to college? Why not log into a site that says: "Here are the classes you need to take and here's how good you have to do." If you get an A, you can go to any CUNY college. If you get a C, you see your options contract. That should be possible.

Last year, a New York university director acknowledged that the Common App cuts an inch off the margins of essays, but it wasn't a big deal. Not a big deal? I couldn't read The Atlantic if you cut an inch off the margins! But the reason it's not a big deal is that the essays just don't matter that much. The essays are a way to tell a room full of parents with slightly below average students that they can be competitive based on their personalities. "I need a bunch of you to apply so I can reject you." That's the game. That's the way I move up in the rankings. Reject more people. Be more selective.

Why isn't this process completely inverted?

It should with classes in 7th grade. Students should know at that point the context of the classes they're taking as it relates to guaranteed admissions decisions. We can show them that as long as they take these classes, and get these grades, they can go to these colleges. And College X, we can say, kids that are like you have historically performed and graduated at this rate. That's what we're all about.

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Craig Powell is CEO and founder of ConnectEDU.

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