I believe in the merits of Prior-Prior, the federal policy of using the previous year's federal tax return on the FAFSA. It helps low-income students finish the FAFSA in a timely matter. Fall can be overwhelming as public school counselors balance between application systems, FAFSA, and TAP. Most school counselors have huge caseloads. In New York state, the ratio is 624 students to one counselor. Counselors don't have time to give low-income students the attention they need in this process. Also, college counseling still isn't a requirement in school counseling programs. Most schools don't have a dedicated college counselor. Having a Community Based Organization that provides college counseling in the school/community is a luxury.
These issues are why I fear the misuse of Prior-Prior for HEOP. If schools wanted to, they could admit most, if not all, of their HEOP class Early Decision. HEOP is supposed to be about granting access to our state's most disadvantaged students and pushing them to succeed in college without the worry of debt. Don't get me wrong; if a student does know where they want to be and fits the profile, they should apply Early Decision. I applied Early Decision and got into HEOP at the school I attended.
Accepting most of your HEOP class Early Decision leaves behind students who can and will eventually want to attend your school. Most students don't discover colleges until the Fall of their senior year due to exposure happening then if they're lucky. It's difficult for low-income schools to get selective colleges to see juniors and underclassmen. I even had representatives cancel on me, not show up and express no interest in visiting my seniors. It's also tricky to pull off college trips for these students while battling between flakey college reps and their school's online calendar.
Most of my students are scared of Early Decision because of the commitment. We wouldn't blindly marry someone. Why should a student impulsively marry a college? Research, visits, and talking to representatives aren't enough to make that kind of commitment if a student has access to those things.
Why should a student who has the drive to succeed be closed to your HEOP program? Why should they go from fighting with thousands of students for 20/40 spots to half as many or even less? I know schools are strongly considering going Early Decision for their HEOP program. One of my colleagues Beverly J. Santos, Associate Director of College Completion at Uncommon Charter High School, expresses the same concern:
"Considering the ED/EA admission rates across the board at the institutions that have the highest mobility and undergraduate minority rates I want to ensure my H/EOP students are applying in the most favorable way. Given H/EOP was created to serve the most marginalized group of students, applying H/EOP ED to their top NY school is very daunting. In the research conducted by Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy in August 2016, Early Decision vs. Regular Decision Acceptance Rates, the data is astounding. There were about 30 schools from NY that offer H/EOP whose data was included or the attempt was there to include. Are colleges using their ED/EA metrics for H/EOP as well? Are they also taking a bulk of their applicant pool via ED/EA? If so, does this change the admissibility of future applicants in terms of their academic profile? We have to remain true to the mission of our phenomenal opportunity programs across the state."
Thankfully there are Directors out there who won't move their program towards Early Decision. One of them is Bill Short, the HEOP Director at St. Lawrence University. He explains his reasons why:
"I don't use Early Decision for HEOP at St. Lawrence University for two reasons. One, because so many potential students don't know about the school in time to meet the Early Decision deadline. And two, because we work very hard to build a cohort that is broadly representative, and I can't do that without seeing the whole pool. It simply doesn't make sense to close out the process early."
Early Decision doesn't build a diverse class. Yes, you're likely to get the best students from Early Decision, but you could be missing out on students who will make your program and school exceptional. I understand the worry of filling a class, but it shouldn't be at the students' expense. All students deserve a shot at a loving family who will push them to cross the finish line with minimal burden added.
I urge HEOP schools to resist the total pull of Early Decision for the good of their mission. Counselors shouldn't be in a position where we have to get top students to consider Early Decision to have a serious shot. Students who don't have a college counselor may end up wanting more than their circumstances and shouldn't be left outside of the gates because they arrived too late.