The Storms’ Impact on College Admissions: A Plea to Institutions

Applying to college is hard enough. Deadlines loom. Essays need to be written and re-written. Recommendation letters are requested as are official transcripts. Standardized tests are taken or re-taken. Campus visits are arranged when fiscally feasible. Computer programs work to animate the application process but their use is not always easy or fully functional. For many prospective college students, this is a time of anxiety and tension. For first generation students, this is a time of extraordinary difficulty, deciding whether to apply, how to apply, when to apply and where to apply.

It is in this context that I want to make a plea to all colleges and universities in our nation (yes, all 6.000 plus of them): create a template for extensions and accommodations that apply to ALL students in identified, storm-damaged regions. As reported in the New York Times, the current approaches are piecemeal and that is suboptimal by any measure. True, something is better than nothing. But, we can do way better.

More specifically, what if we could get all colleges and universities (yes, a consistent, shared effort) that can be widely shared to: (1) identify regions where high school seniors and transfer students who are likely applying to college are impacted (“Affected Regions”); (2) create a template that identifies deadlines that will be moved automatically for students in the Affected Regions (Early Decision; Early Action; “tradition” deadlines; (3) provide alternatives and accommodations for Affected Students in terms of official transcripts (that may be unavailable), number of needed recommendations, first semester high school grades from Senior Year; and (4) enable flexibility for unique other issues that arise (lack of a computer or power; PTS; injuries) that extend, change or adapt deadlines and requirements on a case by case basis

Now, the key here is not only consistency. It is also, assuming there is institutional buy-in from all or virtually all institutions, critical that Affected Students, high schools and guidance counselors will get notice of this set of extensions/accommodations. Social media, college websites, public service announcements are pathways. In the absence of power in many locations, we need to return to pre-technology approaches: flyers, word of mouth, and battery operated radio.

To be sure, there are organizations that could instantly work to make this happen more effectively and quickly — most especially if they are to work together. Consider: ACE, AAC&U, NACAC, CIC among others. Groups focused on college access, guidance counseling and college admissions could be brought into the effort. And, organizations focussed on first generation and/or low income and/or minority students could be engaged in this effort too.

The time is now. Students, families and institutional personnel are fretting and stressing and struggling.

This is one step educators and their organizations and institutions can take NOW. Many of us can’t go to Florida or Texas or the islands to provide hands-on help. This suggestion is something that can be done that will benefits thousands of students. The time for action is upon us. And, what a benefit we could provide as a collective. That would have value well beyond the immediate response to the storms. Call this a win-win-win.

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Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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