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Higher Admission

One of my closest friends is Lyle Albaugh.  He’s an extraordinarily smart, entrepreneurial, energetic, creative, and successful businessman in the D.C. area.  Lyle is always at the back of my mind whenever I advise (as I often do) academics and pundits who complain about the current state of the market to put their money and efforts where their mouths are instead of demanding that government put other people’s money (and lives) where their – these complaining academics’ and pundits’ – mouths are.

Raised in a working-class suburb of Pittsburgh, Lyle is emphatically not the sort of person who could live with himself if he genuinely believed that he spotted a profit opportunity (an opportunity due, as always, to the market’s failure to as yet address an existing problem) and then failed to attempt himself to exploit that opportunity.  Lyle has far too much pride not to put his money and actions where his mouth is, and far too much humility to expect others to follow his advice if he himself refuses to follow it.

Lyle’s latest entrepreneurial venture is Higher Admission dot com.  (I’m honored to serve this for-profit venture as an advisor with neither any pay nor equity stake.)  The idea is to greatly improve the college-application process in the U.S. for  high-school seniors.

Lyle got the idea for higheradmission.com (“Higher Admission”) when he observed the often-absurd hoopla that his extraordinarily accomplished oldest daughter (who’s a friend of my son) endured when she applied for admission to college.  (My son, who is the same age as Lyle’s daughter, endured much of the same hoopla.)  The basic idea is to make colleges compete more intensely for students, rather than have students compete so intensely for admission into colleges.

As Lyle tells me, “Applying as a student to college today is like the student going to Neiman Marcus, kneeling outside locked doors, and holding up a credit card begging the manager to let him or her in to buy its expensive stuff.”  It’s crazy.  This image gets to the heart of part of the college-admissions problem: students beg only a few schools they’ve heard of to accept them, promising to pay – either outright or by borrowing – whatever the schools demand after the students have been admitted.  Knowing that a lot of schools would love to have a really good student such as Lyle’s daughter, Lyle aims to help make schools compete for students the way retailers compete for customers: more openly and on the basis of product quality and price.

With this idea of flipping the college-application and admission process so that schools compete for kids rather than kids spending scores of hours and hundreds of dollars competing for acceptance, Lyle started to research the college-admissions world.  When he did so he found two more significant problems to solve.

First, it’s not just the students who have a tough time.  Many of the colleges and universities themselves, each year, fail to fill their class cohorts completely – despite their expensive recruiting processes.  Every May, an open-seat report is published, and some of the hundreds of colleges still looking for students would surprise you – from University of Florida to DePaul University (and doubtless a few others that don’t want their names on this list at all).

Jack DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, brought up a third issue that affects the entire economy when he asked Jeff Weiner, CEO of Linkedin, about ways to connect kids and schools.  As employers struggle to find employees adequately prepared for today’s jobs, Georgetown’s Center for Education and the Workforce highlighted an annual phenomenon: approximately 400,000 high-school graduates who are qualified by standardized test scores and their grades to attend selective four-year schools don’t even apply to them.

Higher Admission started as a way to shift the odds of finding affordable and appropriate schools toward the students but, ultimately, it creates a winning situation for every school and each of the qualified students who use it.  Higher Admission harnesses technology to lower costs and increase transparency and, in doing so, makes students and schools much more visible to each other.  One result is broader participation by key student populations, including low-income high achievers who don’t have the support needed to get through the current byzantine application process, as well as the many schools that offer solid academics but have lower name recognition than is enjoyed by the likes of Harvard and UC-Berkeley.

I urge you to check out Higher Admission.