Savvy, Frustration, and Motivation -- Spotlight's Take on the Admissions Scandal

The recent admissions scandal hit close to home here at Spotlight. We’ve spent the better part of the last two years figuring out how to leverage our technology to broaden the range of students who understand and participate in the college admissions process, but this scandal has served to alienate many of the new potential entrants to this world.


As we’ve written elsewhere, we developed the College and Career Readiness Guide to help students understand their likely trajectory – and their possible trajectory, with targeted changes – regardless of their language spoken at home, or their parents’ education levels.


Now we’ve developed a new application that addresses this challenge from the other side – the side of the higher ed institution. Our new personalized financial aid video helps students and their parents understand their aid awards – otherwise often the source of real confusion – by explaining them in plain terms: Grant vs. loan. Amount owed. Repayment terms. Earning capacity compared to debt.


Everything we do here is intended to put insights in the hands of all kinds of users – students, parents, and educators – regardless of background. Our software enables these users to make informed decisions – just as informed as someone with an advanced degree, a fast internet connection, or plenty of time to comb through data.


The students and families who use our applications, are every bit as intelligent as the users who have more typically traveled in the rarified air of college admissions. And they certainly have at least as much desire as those families. But they may lack those users’ savvy.


So when we learned that some “users” – wealthy families – have exercised a different form of savvy, one that allowed them not just to use, but also to abuse the system…like many other people we were angry. Livid.


The parents behind this scandal used their wealth not only to work within the system – something the families who use our College and Career Readiness Guide are just now developing the ability to do – but actually to work the system.


In other words, at the very time when we here at Spotlight are working to raise up students and families – and when countless other like-minded organizations are doing the same, ranging from College Track, to college promise programs, to actual school districts (Chicago, Compton, Long Beach, and DCPS all come to mind) – some families are raising the ceiling, pushing the admission chances-enhancing steps that are possible – or for some, necessary – even further out of reach.


It’s maddening, frankly – but it’s also motivating. We’re more determined than ever to do our part to make college a possibility for all kinds of students, regardless of background, income level, language spoken – or degree of savvy.