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Episode Notes | Transcript | AskTheGuest

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Stacey Kostell on The Coalition: College Access for All.

MyCoalition or Coalition Application is the signature College Planning tool from the Coalition for College Access. Stacey Kostell is the CEO.

Stacey joins us on our podcast today to tell us How The Coalition came together, Why Colleges & other community-based organizations are working with them, How they are helping students, and where they are headed.

In particular, we discuss the following with her:

  • Stacey Kostell’s Professional Background
  • The Coalition’s Mission
  • How MyCoalition helps students
  • Partners and Resources

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introducing Stacey Kostell [1:04]
  • Professional Background [2:40]
  • Formulaic to Holistic Admissions [5:10]
  • How Students have changed? [7:59]
  • Joining The Coalition [9:23]
  • Origins of The Coalition [11:34]
  • Why Colleges Partner?  [14:21]
  • How MyCoalition Helps Students [15:53]
  • Resources [21:11]
  • Sourcing Students & Parental Involvement [22:34]
  • Measuring Success [25:42]
  • How to Scale [28:48]
  • Close: “Get More People Involved” [33:07]

Our Guest: Stacey Kostell is the CEO of The Coalition for College Access. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana State University and Master’s from Ball State University. Stacey was the Associate Director of Admissions at Arizona State University, Associate Provost and Director of Admissions at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the Vice Provost of Enrollment Management at the University of Vermont.

Memorable Quote: “And, you know, admissions was Formulaic, for the most part, not certainly not everywhere, but at some public schools, you could look and say, you know, if you have this test score, or this GPA or this rank in your class, you know, you and you've taken these courses, then you're invisible to the University.”

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

<Start Snippet> Stacey Kostell  0:14  

Enrollment leaders that just got together and said, What, What if we made the application process different? I think this started, you know, initially because they liked the idea of having consortium applications. But other people in that conversation weren't a part of a consortium application because they liked the flexibility of being able to do what they wanted to do in their application. So one was, you know, first of all, how can we do both? We have this consortium app with a lot of flexibility. And I think it was, you know, by the very quickly, someone said, and how can we impact the type of you know students going to college.

Venkat  1:04  [Introducing Stacey Kostell, The Coalition for College Access]

That is Stacey Kostell of The Coalition for College Access.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

Stacey Kostell has been an Admissions Professional for the last couple of decades.

Over those years, she played a variety of roles in Admissions and Enrollment in medium and large US Universities.

Stacey was starting to look for a way to make college more accessible and affordable for all students.

In early 2020, Stacey took over as the CEO of The Coalition for College Access.

Stacey joins us on our podcast today to tell us How The Coalition came together, Why Colleges & other community-based organizations are working with them, How they are helping students, and where they are headed.

So, without further delay, here’s Stacey Kostell!

Venkat Raman  2:04  

Hi, Stacey.

Stacey  2:06  

Hi, how are you?

Venkat Raman  2:08  

I'm doing well. I'm doing well. Let me start by welcoming you to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. We are excited to have you on the show.

Stacey  2:18  

Thank you for having me.

Venkat Raman  2:21  

Sure thing. So I wanted to have this conversation with you talk about Coalition and how you got into this. So maybe the best place to start if you're ready is maybe a little bit about your background, and then we go from there.

Stacey  2:40  [Professional Background]

Sure. Well, you know, my, neither my mom or dad graduated from college, I went to school at Indiana State and grew up in Indiana and went to one of the public universities there.

And what I found when I was in college was that I really loved higher education. And the things that I really loved about it was kind of all of the exciting things that were happening outside the classroom.

And so when I completed my degree, I went on to get my master's degree and Student Affairs and got an assistantship at the admissions office and never left. So I have been in admissions ever since. I have been at four public universities. I started at Purdue, when I was at Arizona State University, and then the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and then at the University of Vermont, until I became the CEO of The Coalition in March of 2020.

Venkat Raman  3:48  


So what do you think has kept you in admissions for so long?

Stacey  3:55  

You know, I really do love the work. And I think obviously, what I was doing, you know, 25 plus years ago, as a new admissions counselor at Purdue, was, you know, certainly very, very different than what I was doing in mine as a VP of enrollment at the University of Vermont. But you know, I, I love strategy, and I love marketing, but I think what always has given me the most, you know, pleasure and contentment at the end of the day is when you really get to help a student find their place. And more importantly, when you get to help a student know that college is possible, and to provide a way affordable and affordable way for the student to make that happen. So those certainly always some of the work that I got to do in very different ways. And it's you know, all I do now at the at The Coalition.

Venkat Raman  4:54  

So you know, you've been at a, you said for universities, a few couple of decades. So give us some perspective on how maybe two things one is about students how students have changed, and maybe also how admissions has changed.

Stacey  5:10  [Formulaic to Holistic Admissions]

Yeah, so certainly a lot has changed over the last, you know, 25 years, but certainly even more so in the last couple of years. So I would, I would say, when I was in first an admissions counselor, you know, even both, you know, at Purdue, and certainly things have changed there, as well as Arizona State University, most of the work wasn't about reviewing applications, especially at Arizona State, it was really about doing the outreach, and they are to the access work, so students knew the college was possible. And, you know, admissions was formulaic, for the most part, not certainly not everywhere, but at some public schools, you could look and say, you know, if you have this test score, or this GPA or this rank in your class, you know, you and you've taken these courses, then you're invisible to the university. And there's certainly, you know, some see some advantages in that, because it's pretty clear cut, you know, what you need to make, but obviously, there's, there's so many differences in school systems, what students have available to them.

Stacey  6:19  

Then moved through and went to Illinois, really, that is when things started changing a bit, and admissions became more holistic and approach. So really looking at a student, not just by, you know, a GPA or class rank, our test score by any means, but in the context of which, you know, of the students background.

Stacey  6:48  

And certainly, as you go to more selective schools, that's something that becomes, you know, more and more relevant in the admissions process to really think about bringing in a class, when you have so many applicants to choose from, but I would say, you know, even the holistic process of you know, 12 or 15 years ago, I think, has changed from the admissions process now.

Stacey  7:14  

Many more schools are thinking beyond the, you know, let's look at the context, the courses, the student tech, you know, test scores, their essays, I think now, you know, there's less even less emphasis or no emphasis on test scores in some places, and really thinking about what else the student has done. So not just relying completely on essays, but is there creative work? Is there something else that allows the student to be a great part of our, our, our system in our community?

Venkat Raman  7:44  


Venkat Raman  7:49  

You know, what are the, I guess the complexion of students or the nature of students changed over this time?

Stacey  7:59  [How Students have changed?]

That's a, you know, obviously, well, 25 years ago, no one was using social media for the most part, and no one was, you know, if you think about now, you know, I have a daughter, who's a junior, and I think she talks about schools based on the latest Tick Tock video that she saw somebody do. So there's a lot of things that colleges don't have in their control, and maybe they never have. But there's, there's a way for students to explore colleges differently today. I mean, it was certainly the web and change that I think social media has changed that. And I think, you know, over the last year and a half campuses really started thinking about what are what are their virtual type experiences that we can share with students. And I know that even though this was primarily done because of the pandemic, and people couldn't visit, I think what it has become, is thinking about a way for people to make their campuses more accessible for those who can't easily visit.

Venkat Raman  9:06  

So after 20 plus years in admissions, and you know, at universities you decide to move out of that into coalition, Coalition for College. Why, Why did you make that transition?

Stacey  9:23  [Joining The Coalition]

Yeah, you know, as I said, You know, I certainly love admissions and enrollment work. And I think over time, you know, you get a play a different role. So you go from, you know, kind of one on one working with students and families all the time. I think when I went to Arizona state, which was certainly more of an urban campus, much more diverse, the population was much more diverse, really got to experience what real access work was, you know, we worked with eighth graders and ninth graders. And then when I you know, moved on to my first director, job Illinois, thinking about how to impact, you know, how do we impact by looking the way that we recruit students? How do we, in the way we review students, and the way that we aid students. And I think, as I continued, you continue to see the whole picture. So it's not just about access, like, yes, we're showing students that, you know, college is possible. It's are we also making sure the college is affordable, we also making sure that students have the support systems, they need to graduate on time. And, you know, that's, that's always the work that I love. But when you are, you know, a VP of enrollment or director of admissions, you don't get to focus solely on that piece. There's a lot of other pieces in the work that I also enjoyed.

But you know, the opportunity to join the coalition and have a singular focus, which is making sure that underserved students have know about college that it's possible, and provide them resources and opportunities to know it's also affordable, and and their schools that they can be very successful. That was just an opportunity to kind of do the work that I enjoyed most every single day.

Venkat Raman  11:23  

Maybe before we dive deep into the coalition of college, tell us a little bit about how the coalition came about. What, what brought it together?

Stacey  11:34  [Origins of The Coalition]

Yeah, it's really an interesting story. I mean, if you think about the cushion really hasn't been around very long, in a sense, probably 2016, is what most people would consider our official start. That's when, you know, the digital tools in the application became available. But it's really the brainchild of conversations that probably started and you know, in 2014, and certainly continued by a group of enrollment leaders that just got together and said, what, what if we made the application process different? I think this started, you know, initially because they liked the idea of having consortium applications. But other people in that conversation weren't a part of a consortium application, because they liked the flexibility of being able to do what they wanted to do in their application. So one was, you know, first of all, how can we do both? We have this consortium app with a lot of flexibility. And I think it was, you know, by the very quickly, someone said, and how can we impact the title knows students going to college. And so very quickly, a group of enrollment leaders, you know, took what was already their full time jobs and spent some significant times that committees coming up with a coalition for college. And they went through, you know, people pay membership dues, and a group of really great philanthropic supporters. The coalition started in 2016. And, you know, at first, when it rolled out people certainly thought of as, as an application, which is fair, we were even called the coalition application then, and did a lot of work to kind of improve that process from where it was when we first brought it out in 2016. But I think in the past, you know, since I've joined the coalition, which is March 1, which is completely in line with the pandemic, we've really, you know, certainly we have an application, and we'd like for students to know about it and can use it. But really, our focus has been on that access mission. During the pandemic, and the work that we can do as a group, with member schools, with our partners, with the community based organizations to make sure that students were still applying to college they knew was affordable, and that there were some great choices out there for them.

Venkat Raman  14:10  

So why are all these folks partnering, I mean, colleges, and everybody else.

Stacey  14:21  [Why Colleges Partner?]

So one of the things that makes the coalition distinctive and different from other community based access organizations is the fact that we're a membership organization. And the members are all four year colleges and universities that have a commitment to access, student success and affordability.

Stacey  14:45  

And so there are some benchmarks that each of our members have to show in each of those areas, to show that they you know, do have a commitment to access that they give reasonable financial aid packages and you know, have great graduation rate.

Stacey  15:03  

And so when we do this work together as members, obviously, you can impact a lot more students, when you're there's 150 schools doing the work all together than each single entity. And there's lots of power in doing that, that work in that way to share best practices. And to really, it's really not about recruiting for your school at that point.

Stacey  15:29  

It's about really empowering students and thinking about increasing the number of students who are going on to higher education, and also helping them make those smart college choices. So they're not coming out with large amounts of debt, and they are graduating on time.

Venkat Raman  15:47  

How do you actually help students? How does the coalition actually help students? What's the process?

Stacey  15:53  [How The Coalition Helps Students]

Yeah, so there's three, there's really three different ways that we work with students.

Stacey  16:04

Kind of in a newer way that we've, we started really, during the pandemic, to really fit a need, when you know, in person visits were no longer possible for any of our members was to do some virtual programming. And so we have everything from, you know, college fairs, and student panels. And I know, there's a lot of other organizations who offer these as well. But one of the things that we try to do is make sure we're always providing that information in a way that really talks about access, affordability and student success.

So for example, if you attend a coalition college fair, I mean, one of the beauty is you have 140, really fantastic schools that you can visit with. But when each of them give their you know, six or seven minute admissions presentation, you're going to find that what they're talking about is the opportunities for students, both from know from an accessibility standpoint for the types of financial aid packaging that they offered students, as well, as you know, the support, they have to make sure that students graduate in four years.

So we always do everything with that lens. And that includes things like FAFSA workshops, and SSL profile workshops that are really for students and their family members. We also offer those in Spanish, would you sessions about being a first generation college students. So certainly we do things about, you know, the application and the process, but we also try to do some emphasis. So all students really feel welcomed.

Stacey  17:42  

So that's one way, the other way, of course, is through our digital tools, which again, was kind of the foundation of the coalition, which is called “mycoalition”. And so as soon as you can start a coalition account, you know, as early as ninth grade, but they can also do it as a transfer student, the kind of the beauty of it is, as you, you know, start your account, which is really easy.

And if you do it when you're a ninth or 10th grader, and you know, you fill out a little about yourself, that's all you have to do to start your account. But at that time, you have access to what we call our Locker, which is your free digital storage space.

So you can start thinking about things you might want to use in your college application, or just refer to when you're writing an essay, we also have a video component. So if you prefer to do, you know kind of video journaling, or to practice making video interviews, which many more colleges are using, you can do that.

And as you kind of grow your profile, you can add, you know, your activities that you've done, the courses that you've taken, when you go to apply for college, all of that is there with you.

So, you know you really, so it's not like October of your senior year, and you're staring at a blank page, a lot of that work is done. Right. So that's, you know, one of the beauties of the tools.

The other thing that happens is when a student has an account, they also have the college list. And so as they're thinking about the colleges, they want to attend, you know, they can ask for their information be shared, and so they can start getting college advice directly from the schools.

But more importantly, we've created college advice with our members and with our counselor advisory board and community based organizations to help students along the way and not just Hey, it's time to take an ACT test because they'll they'll hear plenty of that. It's also include things like how to advocate for yourself and you know, if you're a freshman, you know, how are they really calculating a GPA at my school? How they're really what what do I want to get involved in.

So, so really getting them to you know, how do I get my first job not out of college, but as as a student. So we try to you know, we try to provide surrealistic advice, but also So a lot of encouragement to let them know college is possible that it can be affordable.

Stacey  20:07  

And so that's kind of that other piece of that communication piece that we provide, I would consider the third area that might be emails that might be the way that we promote schools, through our social media, or number of videos and things that we do. So there's really kind of different avenues or ways to connect with organization.

Venkat Raman  20:31  

That's great. Now, can international students also applied through this? Or is this limited to domestic students?

Stacey  20:40  

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I mean, it's, it's a college, it's a college application. And we do have a number of international students who use that. Okay, you know, a lot of the international students also participate in our programs, as well. And they're certainly, you know, welcome to do that.

Venkat Raman  21:00  

Now, you mentioned resources, like counselors, advisors, and such, how, how large is that network?

Stacey  21:11  [Resources]

So, I mean, we have, so basically, there's the team of The Coalition, which is the, the true Coalition team staff, and there's five of us. And then there's obviously all of our member schools, which is over 150, now.

And then, the other group that we work directly with is community based organizations, as well, which are really there for, you know, students, typically in their local community, to help them think about college.

And so you know, one of we find it really beneficial to partner with these organizations to really benefit one another to help you know, give them information, advice about college and making smart college choices.

And for them to give us advice about what's the best way to provide information and provide resources to them and their students.

So there's a lot of networking that happens as well, some other partners that we work with. But really, you know, most of the work itself is done within the members, the member institutions.

Venkat Raman  22:18  

Tell us a little bit about the students you actually end up helping. How are you finding them? Do they find you? I'm guessing it's a mixture of both? How does that work? And what kind of students are these generally?

Stacey  22:34  [Sourcing Students & Parental Involvement]

Yeah, so certainly, the coalition platform is open to all students. So any student who's thinking about college can certainly log on, start a mind coalition account, and apply with the application. Regardless of you know, their background or their citizenship, it's available to students who would like to attend one of our member schools. What, what we then you know, and that's for students who find us where we try to be more intentional, is reaching out to school districts, community based organizations, and having programming that's very much directed to students who are likely the first in their first in their family to go to college, we are possibly limited income students. So that's why we really focus on you know, our partnership with community based organizations, Title One schools, other school districts, you know, charters, who have that focus, to just make sure that they know that we're available. And we're a free resource. And, you know, one of the things that we've been offering recently, as people have become more comfortable in the virtual space is, you know, even professional development opportunities. I mean, we have this great membership network, we can easily go in and do a workshop for for guidance counselor's who want to have more of their students go on to four year schools, or four year selective schools and talk about selective college admission, or talk about, you know, the FAFSA form or the CSS Profile. So there, like I said, there's there's great power in our membership, whether if it's, you know, networking connecting that way, or directly with the students. So we're also happy to get on and work with students, let them know about all of our offerings and how to set up an account and start getting you know, that that advice, whether it be to your inbox or to your Instagram feed, that way to get some ways to get some positive messages about college being possible.

Venkat Raman  24:36  

Now, do the parents get involved in this at all? Or is that not very common?

Stacey  24:41  

You know, it's one of those it depends. We have tried to be you know, one of the things that we've talked about is, how can we help parents be involved. So some of our programs are certainly geared towards parents, especially something like a FAFSA workshop. You know, that's important. Obviously, the parents have to help with that. But you know, parents are certainly welcome to attend, especially our panel information sessions. But we have been thinking about how can we be more thoughtful in creating kind of communications and advice for parents. So hopefully, that's something you'll see coming in the future, as we think about, you know, the best way to have additional parent involvement.

Venkat Raman  25:30  

This all sounds very good. So, how well is this working? What's, what's your measure of success or How are you looking at this?

Stacey  25:42  [Measuring Success]

Yeah, that's interesting. We're at that point, that five year point where we're getting ready to dive in and do quite a bit of assessment, because, you know, one of the things we've always said is sure, we know, the students that we work with are applying to college. But what we want to know is not only, you know, that they enrolled, but also that they've been successful. So we're getting ready to do an assessment, a bigger assessment than we've traditionally done to really make sure that, you know, find out how we're doing. And I think that will help us in our strategic planning of the future to know, you know, what are we doing well, that we want to continue? What do we want to tweak a model? And what do we want to do that's different, especially has, you know, times have changed, certainly, with the pandemic? And so are there additional things that we need to do or need to do differently? But I think, you know, overall, we certainly know and get student input are getting ready to do that, you know, next week with focus groups, just to find out from students directly, you know, how, how were we helpful? And what did you need that you didn't receive? You know, what are kind of those holes that we can fill as an organization?

Venkat Raman  26:57  

Now, do you at this point? I mean, it's been five years, you said, so they've probably a class or two that is graduated? How, how did that work out?

Stacey  27:12  

Yeah, that's what I think we're ready. We'll be able to find out shortly. Yep.

Venkat Raman  27:17  

Okay. Okay. And you? Have you been tracking these people? Are the students as over the years? Or are you kind of keeping it casual?

Stacey  27:27  

And, you know, we have, we certainly, like with all things we know, all of the students who have, you know, set had occlusion accounts. And we know, you know, from from our members how students are doing, but we don't we haven't been able to do an official assessment, or we haven't again, so that's what we hope to be doing.

Venkat Raman  27:45  

Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. Now, if you can share, I mean, how many students? Are we talking about roughly? Or some ballpark? Or is that something that you don't share?

Stacey  27:56  

You know, it? Certainly it's changed. But what we do know is we've had about a million accounts started through my coalition since we started well, over a million accounts started at the coalition since we started. Many of those many of those students then apply. You know, some students don't use the product to apply. And that's okay with us, too. As long as they've gone to college, right? Maybe they've decided that they're going to fly to the UC system, or to somebody who's not a member of the coalition. But if we provided them some great resources, and encourage them to do that, then that's a win.

Venkat Raman  28:36  

Fun enough. So So roughly a million accounts over the last few years, such five years. Yeah, that's, that's great. That's awesome.

Venkat Raman  28:48  [How to Scale]

Okay, so looking ahead, where are you guys headed? What, What are you guys trying to do the next five years, the next five years?

Stacey  28:57  

Yeah, that's, you know, I think that is the question that we've been talking about, too. Because if you look, five years ago, when we first started with the application, lots of change, lots of lots has changed. And we think that one of the big wins, of course, it's not, you know, I don't think we've crossed the finish line. But one of the wins is the college application process is different than it was five years ago. And the way that people ask questions, the information the students provide, and even the way that people do review, and I do think the Coalition for college certainly had a part to play in making that happen. And as I said, I don't we certainly don't have a fair and equitable admissions process in our country yet, but I think we've made lots of positive steps. Yeah. So you know, you know, what else can we do? And I think that is thinking about really that that really piece which was always part of our mission, and I think How do we continue that focus? Because now to make sure that we do have students applying, and more students applying? So I think, you know, that's the work that we'll continue to do is how can we continue to make an impact with underserved communities and going to college and really making smart college choices. So when they do go to school, and they graduate, they don't have large student debts? And you know, they're they're ready to go right into a great career.

Venkat Raman  30:33  

You know, the number of students who are enrolling in US colleges, I think that out of that, roughly over 50%, were first gen students for the last, you know, a few years. And so there's a large body that is going to college now. And so obviously, the opportunity exists to, you know, not have just a million, but 5 million students over the next five years that use your system, and, you know, go to work with you. So, how do you scale to do that? I mean, is that possible? Is that doable?

Stacey  31:09  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that we can certainly will work to accommodate as many students now who want to use our services. And so that is, I mean, one of the things that that we just started this year, is, even though you know, we're a small team, we do have a lot of great members. And so we have a new program that's just gonna kick off in September, called Coalition ambassadors, where you kind of have this extended volunteer staff made up of a group of our members, who were really there to do work on behalf you know, instead of there being five of us doing that work every day, we now have some additional volunteers that can really help with that in person component, and be able to go in to, you know, maybe there's certainly communities that virtual offerings isn't always the best. The best way, so we're hoping this is a great way to do some more in person work, depending on the pandemic, and just be able to expand our outreach. But also, you know, the other thing is begin to professional and develop the next group of enrollment leaders around the importance of access and that mission. So having some young professionals who are already committed to the work, and getting them to meet and connect with, you know, our leadership within the coalition. And our board, I think, is just a great way to grow the commitment for new professionals and also be able to interact with more students in organizations.

Venkat Raman  32:41  

Yeah, I think I think that's a great, great approach. I think that's a wonderful way to multiply this.

Venkat Raman  32:51  

Okay, so Stacey, this has been fantastic. We're nearing sort of the end of our podcast, I just wanted to give me a shot at anything that you wanted to share that we didn't touch upon, or something that you want to expand on.

Stacey  33:07  [Close: “Get More People Involved”]

Now, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. And you know, I, you know, our philosophy is the more people who do this work, you know, the better off we'll be, you know, as a country, and providing, you know, educational access to more students and families.

Venkat Raman  33:26  

Fantastic. So, Stacey, thank you so much for taking the time and talking to us. And I'm sure that our listeners will benefit immensely. And I hope this is useful in the process as well to share the good word. So thank you, and I'm sure we want to talk again, but for now, take care. Be safe. Thank you again,

Stacey  33:48  

You too. Thank you.

Venkat Raman  33:49  

Bye Bye.


Venkat  33:57

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Stacey Kostell on The Coalition for College Access.

A few comments on the The Coalition:

  • The support of 150+ colleges
  • Digital Tools for the application process
  • Partnering with Community-based organizations to help students apply

I hope students take advantage of these resources while applying to college.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at [].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on forward slash podcasts [].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit forward slash almamatters [] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

MyCoalition, Coalition Application, College Applications, College Admissions, Podcast for High Schoolers, College Podcast for High Schoolers, International Students, US Colleges, Coalition for College Access, High School Students, College-bound, Locker, College List, Community-based Organization, First Generation, College Counselor

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