Lumina Foundation initiative aims to simplify, grow college admissions

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Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation has launched a nearly $3 million effort designed to make it easier for students to apply for and be admitted to college.

The Great Admissions Redesign is a challenge for higher education institutions as well as state agencies to find ways to simplify what Melanie Heath, strategy director for participation at Lumina Foundation, calls a complicated process.

“The time is right for some real innovation to take place here,” Heath said. “So, what we’re looking for are ways to simplify the process by making it proactive, automated and transparent.”

Heath told Inside INdiana Business the admissions process should not be so complex in 2023.

“We’re looking for ways to increase opportunity, particularly for students who might be the first in their family to go to college, who are low income or students of color, and we’re also looking for things that are fundamentally different and new,” Heath said. “We feel like there is a huge opportunity at this specific moment in time to really rethink how we’ve been doing college admissions.”

The length and complexity of the current admissions process are among the biggest challenges, according to Heath.

“I think students are having to sometimes log into and create accounts on seven different portals to be able to onboard successfully into college,” she said. “The fact that there’s an application fee to even apply to be considered is a problem, because that’s a huge barrier for a significant number of students.”

The challenge is open to state agencies and quasi-public organizations; state systems of higher education that include public bachelor’s-granting universities or colleges; and a group of three or more public or private not-for-profit institutions that includes at least one bachelor’s-granting institution.

“You can’t solve complicated kind of data structure problems institution by institution,” Heath said. “So, we’re really looking for something that is at scale … something that involves multiple institutions and is kind of a structural solution.”

The foundation will select applicants to submit full grant proposals based on their ability to address specific criteria:

  • Opportunity: Demonstrated commitment and a clear outline of how the proposed project will increase college opportunities for students of color, students from low-income families, and first-generation students.
  • Simplicity: Clear explanation of how the project will reduce complexity in admissions and enrollment processes in terms of reliance on automation, proactively engaging potential students, and the overall transparency of the process.
  • Innovation: The extent to which the project reimagines how students are admitted and enrolled.

The foundation is accepting two types of funding requests: planning proposals and implementation proposals.

The planning proposals will come from applicants that are in the early stages of developing a plan for redesigned admissions, enrollment and financial aid processes. Lumina plans to select up to five entities to submit proposals for 12-month grants of up to $100,000 each.

The implementation proposals will come from applicants that have already done work to redesign their processes. Three entities will be chosen to submit grant proposals for between $500,000 and $750,000 over a nearly two-year period.

Heath said she hopes the initiative will result in students being proactively notified of which colleges they qualify for before they even apply, and when they do apply, the process is free and takes just a few clicks to complete.

“We want higher education to be as accessible as possible,” she said. “There’s no reason that we need to put these kind of unnecessary or antiquated hurdles in between considering college and actually enrolling in college. So this should be as streamlined as possible.”

She said success for the Great Admissions Redesign would result in something that is fundamentally different that could serve as a model for other states and educational systems.

Responses to the challenge are due by Oct. 6 and the foundation expects to announce the grant recipients by the end of November.

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