Business student

…and a third-round draft pick

I would like to have a fully developed position on the Concourse platform described in Inside Higher Education In Monday. At this point, however, honesty compels me to settle for a few acknowledgments and apprehensions. It could be helpful, or it could go very, very wrong.

The service, apparently, is for students applying to relatively non-selective four-year colleges. Community colleges are not mentioned, which I thought was odd; students who don’t get offers elsewhere are welcome at community colleges, which also tend to be affordable. But that may be a function of whether colleges have to pay to play.

Either way, the service requires students to complete anonymous profiles, which are circulated among participating Chicago-area colleges. I imagine something like the NFL Draft, where teams pick college players and basically get dibs on them. *In this case, those who don’t get drafted seem like they should at least be referred to the local community college.

Concourse gets its money from the colleges themselves. Students do not pay.

The company tries to claim that it performs a matching service, matching the right students to the right colleges, even if the students have never heard of the colleges in question. To what I say, maybe. The colleges are the ones that pay; they are the customers. In terms of knowing students about the institutions in question, the story mentions conversations with admissions officials. That’s something, but the admissions rep’s incentives are pretty clear.

Having recently gone through the admissions process for selective institutions with The Girl, I can attest that some kind of common portfolio would have saved a lot of time. The common app was supposed to do this, but several places have added bells and whistles to their apps. I guess the purpose was to filter out unserious applicants. The result, however, was a lot more work for the more serious. The worst part, common to many, was the “manually type in every class you took in high school along with the grades.” I’m told they do this because the transcripts take too long to arrive and are too idiosyncratic, but that seems like a solvable problem. We already have a standard nutrition label on packaged foods; how difficult would a standard format for transcriptions be?

(ducks)

If a common portfolio means a student only has to enter all this information once, I see the appeal. And being able to enter SAT/ACT scores once (if applicable) saves the expense of paying for separate score reports for each school, which is a particularly unpleasant expense. As the test-optional movement takes hold it may become less relevant, but avoiding the cost and hassle of additional score reporting is something.

And the folks at Concourse insist that students are subject to email overload. Email has become a running joke with TG. Spam is a real problem.

That said, Concourse is clear about not focusing on the most selective spots. Instead, it directs students to the most accessible places that are willing to pay to be listed. So the convenience of avoiding retyping a transcription half a dozen times is probably moot; the places that make students do this are usually not those of the target market.

Although the article doesn’t specify, Concourse seems to be a response to market changes over the past decade. Now that many colleges have seen a major drop in enrollment, prospective students are (potentially) in the driver’s seat. When enrollment peaked, colleges could wait for students to come to them. Now, outside of branded places, that’s not true. Concourse is therefore taking the opportunity to bring colleges to students.

The community college exclusion bothers me, both for obvious reasons and because in many cases, a community college is the better option. I’m also concerned about the pay-to-play model, although it’s easy to argue that the status quo is also pay-to-play. Depending on the popularity of Concourse (or a similar platform), it could raise its rates for colleges with the implicit threat that if colleges don’t step up, their enrollment will suffer. The incentives of the intermediary are separate and distinct from those of colleges and students. If it becomes powerful enough, it could extract significant rents to the detriment of all. The imperative to make ever-increasing profits could incentivize quite predatory behavior over time.

Still, I must admit to being fascinated. Market power has shifted to the point that there might be room for something like this. If managed ethically, it could help some students unfamiliar with the world of higher education to discover options they didn’t know they had. At least for me, the jury is out.

* The NFL metaphor seems like it could go further. “We’ll trade you two business majors for a science comp major and a third-round draft pick.” “I was the student who will be named later…”