Public colleges to consider common applications

At least one Louisiana legislator wants to make it easier for high school seniors and their parents to get through the mostly joyless process of applying to college. But the state and most of the higher education institutions greeted that suggestion with a shrug and a let me think about it wink.

At issue is the Common Application, known as the Common App. It’s a membership organization consisting of more than 500 public and private colleges and universities.

It’s good for students because they can fill out one college application, write one essay and then send it to dozens of different schools with just a few keystrokes. It’s good for colleges and universities because it opens them up to thousands of potential students each year who might not have otherwise applied.

Harvard, Princeton, Yale and other prestigious universities are members, along with some of the more highly regarded public institutions including the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And it might make sense in Louisiana, where public colleges and universities are reeling after being stripped of $700 million in state funding over the last five years.

Joining the Common App could make a lot of sense, especially for a school like Southern University, which has been fighting an uphill battle to boost enrollment over the years. So why is it that only a handful of Louisiana’s private schools and one public school, the University Of New Orleans, belong to the Common App organization?

LSU administrators said they have their reasons; Southern didn’t respond.

But State Sen. Conrad Appel wants concrete answers.

Appel is a member of the state Legislature’s Senate Education Committee. This spring, he sponsored a resolution requiring the state’s higher education policy panel, the Board of Regents, to study the pros and cons of Louisiana schools joining the Common App.

“I’m looking at it from the perspective of parents and students,” the Metairie Republican said. “It’s easier for them. At the very least, why wouldn’t we have a common Louisiana application? If a student wants to go to ULL or LSU or UNO, they have to fill out three different applications.”

Earlier this month, the Regents recommended against mandating that all public schools join the organization, but they left the door open for individual institutions to join if they want to. Regents Deputy Commissioner for Planning, Research and Academic Affairs, Larry Tremblay, said the Common App has historically been an organization for private schools.

“They probably argued over what kind of stuff to ask for (in their applications), and they probably wanted the same type of students,” Tremblay said.

He added that going to a one-size-fits-all application would cut down on the ability of schools to market themselves.

“Campuses use the application process as a part of their marketing,” Tremblay said. “They want students to know their brand.”

The Common App has also been plagued this year by new software that has given students, parents and guidance counselors fits as the website freezes, won’t let students copy and paste from Microsoft Word and, in some cases, won’t accept payments.

But the lack of individualized marketing and a glitchy website isn’t enough to deter UNO. The school has been a Common App member for about three years.

Dave Meredith, UNO’s executive director of enrollment services, said his school made the calculation that the number of students they could pick up by belonging to the organization outweighs the negatives.

UNO, he said, is a school that attracts mostly in-state students. The problem is the pool of in-state students is shrinking as state rules have kicked in requiring stricter admission standards and barring schools from offering remedial classes to incoming students.

UNO didn’t immediately have statistics available showing how their out-of-state enrollment has fared since joining the organization.

“The Common App is a good pickup for us,” Meredith said. “It allows students applying to multiple schools also to apply to us. We can pick up students from anywhere that wouldn’t even know about us before. Maybe for a kid in Chicago, New Orleans would look like a very attractive city to live in.”

But it’s a different calculation for other schools. David Kurpius, LSU’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, said staying out of the Common App organization allows LSU to maintain different admission criteria than other schools.

He also addressed the convenience factor by explaining that the LSU application may be less tedious, considering it doesn’t require an essay for undergraduate admission, while the Common App does.

“Some schools use it to increase their out-of-state applications, and that’s not a bad thing to do,” he said. “But what you see is a significant increase in volume, with a slight increase in enrollment.”