Waiting on the “Internet of Admissions”

Robert Deutsch, Liaison’s vice president of marketing, recently shared his thoughts on the “Internet of Admissions.” In this post, Robert draws on his eight years in higher ed tech and the many tech-forward experiences, including launching some of the Web’s first sites and developing a range of mobile apps, that have inspired his admiration for the “Internet of Things.”

“Alexa, apply me to Harvard for the Fall 2020 semester.”

Perhaps the most preposterous assumption that sentence makes is that I could get into Harvard, not that one day applying to college will be as easy as talking to a smart speaker. We don’t know the exact steps from where we are now to that point, but borrowing a central tenet from the “Internet of Things” or “IoT,” we do have a name for the process: the “Internet of Admissions,” or “IoA.”

IoT is a technology rubric coined by Kevin Ashton (and used by the leading thinkers in science, technology and conspiracy theories) which posits that devices and products that are connected to the Internet can, without human interaction, collect, analyze and help synergize insights that lead to improvements in the devices and products themselves.

Think “smart” things like homes, televisions and speakers.

For the Internet of Admissions, apply that same concept to eliminating unbearable, overlapping application documentation and wonky, aged IT — and the nearly unavoidable human errors that result from the two coming together, such as Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health’s accidental mailing of 277 acceptance letters in 2014. (“Siri, accept this list of 227 graduate students.”) The goal: improving the process by which prospective students make one of the most consequential decisions of their lives.

The evolution of innovation

IoA began in earnest a few years after IBM and Apple launched personal computers, but before America Online was a voice in your head and a pile of free CDs in your mailbox. I’m proud to say that Liaison was among the pioneers when we went online to enable dental graduate programs (among others) to recruit and enroll students with marketing automation and admissions management technology and services. Later in the decade, the Common Application went online and began connecting high school students to prospective undergraduate programs. (When you think about it, the college connection makes sense because the first IoT device was a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University.)

As the rapid innovations in tech continued everywhere, academic institutions benefited too. Their processes became more optimized as a wealth of new data points and recruiting tools increased their likelihood of admitting best-fit students.

Critics contend that for each new efficiency realized on the admissions side, there was an equal or similar difficulty realized on the applicant side. For applicants who already couldn’t meet the technical qualifications of a standard application (like access to a desktop computer), the new requirements (like consistent access to reliable internet) seemed to put college even farther out of reach.

Emerging, expensive technology threatened to create a chasm between admissions officers and applicants, and two groups saw opportunity in that space — college marketing folks, eager to take advantage of the wider, easier, more accessible audiences, and paid college advisors, who took it upon themselves to declutter the environment for the students who were now overwhelmed and perhaps confused about college in a whole new way. And that was just version 1.0.

New tools for new challenges

The Internet of Admissions 2.0 is built on three bedrock concepts: Big data, holistic theory and the rise of mobile technology. These three things require the Internet, create new learning-insight opportunities and, by design, necessitate new tools to manage the input.

Big data was created when schools moved applications online for tracking students from first interest to first day on campus, and then introduced the need for the right kind of data visualization to handle it all for meaningful insights. Holistic theory is the still-fluid and developing concept of non-cognitive data like video, performances, engineering/architecture schematics or large-scale art being accepted (or even required) as part of the admissions process. (Portfolio management systems like SlideRoom help translate this theory into practice.)

Mobile technology, where the students live every day, is now the place where the students get status updates on their applications (so long, big envelopes), compare schools and even apply. (See Goucher College’s democratizing video application.)

As each of these elements threatens the other two in some way or another, I predict that future technological innovations will further disrupt the process even as all involved parties start to get comfortable with the tech status quo. One component will remain constant: Both sides (admissions offices and students) will continue on their mission to identify themselves in the most authentic, efficient and “platform-positive” ways possible for the purposes of building the best class for admissions offices and getting the best education for students.

But what about the marketing people and the paid college counselors? They may get in the way — after all, they have for years — but that’s not the fault of IoA. The true question is: Will they find a way to influence your smart speaker, or will their intrusion be just an Echo?