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How 'Greenlight Match' is Flipping the Script on College Admissions

Episode 121

September 27, 2022 27 minutes


EAB recently acquired Concourse Global and announced an expansion of the Greenlight Match program the two companies have been collaborating on for the past year. Greenlight Match flips the script on the traditional college application process by enabling underserved students to connect with and receive offers of admission and financial aid from participating local colleges-without completing a formal application.

This process typically provides these students multiple offers early in the college application process, which boosts their confidence and helps them plan their finances. Concourse founder Joe Morrison joins EAB’s Jonathan April to discuss this new phase of their work.



0:00:11.8 Speaker 1: Hello, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Our conversation today revolves around a collaboration between EAB and Concourse Global that is generating offers of admission and financial aid for thousands of underserved students. EAB and Concourse are expanding the project called Greenlight Match to six new metropolitan areas with a goal of helping more than 13,000 students enter college within the next year. Give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:48.7 Jonathan April: Hello, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Jonathan April and I am Managing Director of College Greenlight, an initiative I helped to launch at Cappex dedicated to supporting first-generation lower income and historically under-represented students on their path to higher education. I’ve been incredibly excited about the growth of our program since Cappex became part of EAB two years ago. I am excited to be joined by Joe Morrison, founder of Concourse. College Greenlight partnered with Joe and his amazing team last fall to launch Greenlight Match, a new initiative to reduce barriers and improve the college admissions process and increase access of our first-generation low-income students. We piloted Greenlight Match last school year in College Greenlight’s birthplace Chicago. By the time this podcast airs, we will have announced that Concourse is officially part of the EAB family, and that our pilot Greenlight Match has expanded to several new markets. I’m thrilled to be here with Joe to describe our journey to this point and where this combination will continue to transform admissions. Joe, thanks for being here. Would you mind taking a moment to introduce yourself and tell us about the Concourse platform that’s the heart of this project.

0:02:00.2 Joe Morrison: Well, first of all, thanks for joining me on this podcast. I’m excited to be doing it together, and I’m thrilled that Concourse is now part of EAB. Super exciting development. Yeah, just in terms of my own background, I came to Concourse through an indirect path. I used to be a software developer, for years I worked on Wall Street building financial technology systems for investment banks. And then I had a career pivot because my wife, Kim, who’s also an entrepreneur, founded a company called Grok Global to help universities build their international field teams. And she invited me to join her company and I basically changed careers and started surrounding myself with universities and recruiters and immersing myself in that. And then it was really the insights gained from that work where we realized there was an opportunity to build a new kind of software company around helping universities work more closely with international schools and their counselors. So that’s the background behind Concourse. We decided that Concourse should be its own company. And so I left and I founded Concourse.

0:03:09.8 JA: Tell me, I guess, what was the… What’s the major concept that Concourse is looking to solve?

0:03:16.4 JM: Really, there are two problems we really wanted to solve, and one of them was around students. And this is a problem for international students, but also as we’re gonna talk about later, for a lot of students in the US, just the whole college prep and admission and application process, it’s really stressful and a lot of students have a lot of anxiety around what they need to do. That’s a problem. And there’s also equity issues where the whole admission system has become so complicated that a lot of families end up spending vast amounts of money hiring experts to help them navigate. Other families don’t have those resources which isn’t fair. So we really wanted to figure out a way to make the whole process more welcoming and more forgiving for students. And then on the flip side, working closely with all these universities, we realized there’s a lot of wonderful hard-to-reach populations of students that are really hard to enroll.

0:04:16.8 JM: And that on the international side, that might mean students outside mainstream markets. So there’s many countries that are just hard to recruit from because it’s uneconomical to travel there. And there are other challenges. And then in the US, there are a lot of students, especially first-generation students, low income students and other underserved students who have trouble just navigating the traditional process. So the big idea behind Concourse was, well, what if we solve both problems at the same time by flipping the application process around and having the universities apply for students instead of students applying to university? And really, if you think about it, the reason that helps both sides is because we’re giving universities a new way to attract students by essentially removing barriers for them, which also helps on the student side.

0:05:09.8 JA: Yeah, I remember reading about Concourse months before we even met and having this feeling that the technology like the one that you developed, would be amazing for Greenlight students. Yeah, so thanks for sharing the background on Concourse, I’d love to share the work that we do at Greenlight because I feel like the marriage between Concourse and our community that we’ve developed at College Greenlight which created Greenlight Match, that unique combination has been so incredibly powerful.

0:05:44.2 JM: I agree. Actually, I wanted to ask you that, how did Greenlight get it start?

0:05:49.4 JA: Yeah, so Greenlight, we dig back 10 years now. Greenlight was launched out of Cappex based on relationships the Cappex team had with CBOs, Community Based Organizations. Organizations in Chicago, like Chicago Scholars. Over the last 10 years, we have grown into a national platform. We now support 1500 organizations across the country. We use the term CBO often, but for us it’s really an umbrella term. We include three different kinds of organizations underneath that CBO term. Number one, privately funded nonprofit college acts of success organizations. You could think college possible. The college advising cohort, college aim in Atlanta. Second we include government funded programs like Trio and Gear Up. And third we also include schools and school networks like Kip Urban Assembly, Noble and Uplift.

0:06:41.1 JA: All of these organizations support first-generation low-income students on the path to and through college. At Greenlight, we live and breathe for this community, providing free resources to help close information and opportunity gaps. Our community also includes 400 colleges and universities who partner with us to recruit students, build relationships, pipelines with CBOs that support them and promote their diversity initiatives to the nationwide college access community. So at Greenlight, we work every day to tackle the big challenges that are faced by first generation lower income students. And connecting you… Connecting with you and the team at Concourse has been amazing ’cause we really think that, again, like the Concourse platform could be pretty amazing to reduce barriers for students through this crazy college admissions process.

0:07:37.7 JM: Yeah, it’s such a fantastic combination. ‘Cause if you think about this universe from the perspective of the community-based organizations, first they have to reach the populations of students that they wanna help and serve. And then they have to help those students navigate this crazy process and have everybody kind of think about what their aspirations are for college and build their lists and complete their applications and send documents. And then you have a lot of universities who would love to recruit those students and it’s hard to connect them. And so I think our software platform together with your community I think that’s such a great combination. The CBOs can, Sorry, go ahead Jonathan.

0:08:23.0 JA: I was just thinking about all of the barriers that students face in the traditional college application process and potentially how Greenlight Match works to address those challenges. There’s so many issues that our CBO students face every day, and our CBO counselors help them to address those issues. I mean, the whole idea that a student needs to get a fee waiver to apply is kind of a crazy idea. Those application fees add up and those cause barriers. Students often apply too late. Certainly, they’re missing out on colleges that they just don’t know about. And the traditional college application model, students have to build a college list and then apply to those schools. But you got to know those schools to apply to them.

0:09:11.1 JM: Right.

0:09:12.0 JA: You need to think that you need to know their names. You need to think that you could afford to get afforded those institutions. You need to think that you could get in. And if any of those issues arise, you’re not gonna apply to those schools. And there are fantastic opportunities that students just don’t know about. And in the traditional model, students are just gonna miss those. The magic of Concourse Greenlight Match is that as you said, colleges are coming to students with opportunities so that students can learn about get connected to actually not even just learn about, but actually get admitted to colleges that could be supportive and generous to them that they never would’ve been connected to otherwise.

0:09:49.8 JM: Right. In fact, yeah, that’s a good moment to maybe recap, right? So how does our platform work? So a counselor at a community based organization would invite their students to create profiles on Concourse, and those profiles would include their grades and their interests and other information. And then the counselors would click a button to certify the information and say this student is ready to receive admission offers. And then universities would then log in and each university would be able to see here’s a list of students currently looking for offers who meet your criteria. And if they are interested in a student, they look like applications, but they’re not applications, right? They’re students who are just sharing their profiles and who are looking for admission offers. So colleges who are interested can build an offer and say we’re admitting you to such and such a program with this amount of scholarship. And if the students are interested, they can click a button, share their file with the university and join their admitted student pipeline. So that’s kind of how the platform works. But one of the things I wanted to ask you was when you approached us around working together on Greenlight Match, why did you pick Chicago area to start? What was special about Chicago?

0:11:12.8 JA: Yeah. Well Chicago’s our home Chicago was the birthplace of college Greenlight. And nationwide, we spark 1500 plus organizations. At least a hundred of those are in the Chicago land area. We also have a wonderful network of college partners. So deep CBO relationships and strong college partners made Chicago really the ideal place for our pilots. And as we saw, the other pilot was wonderfully successful. We had 24 organizations bring students onto the platform a wide variety of programs, CBOs like college Possible and Urban Alliance, charter networks like Noble and Urban Prep and Intrinsic and CICS schools. We had 10 colleges take a leap. One public institution, Illinois State University, and nine private colleges. Essentially we asked our CBO community to suggest colleges that students were missing but were supportive and generous to low income students. And that’s how schools like Augustana and Knox and others made the list. In our pilot, we had 650 students nominated. Those students received nearly two thousand offers of admissions. So approximately three offers per students. Those students received $135 million in scholarship offers. It was really exciting, really, really phenomenal results. We viewed the pilot as a really big success.

0:12:39.9 JA: Our CBOS were thrilled that their students were getting generous offers from a new set of colleges, college possible Chicago, one of our long-time partners, had 43 students received 147 offers, admission and 11 million in scholarship offers. Another school, the school network, the CICS or Civitas School Network had 27 over 130 participating students enroll at one of the 10 colleges, including colleges where their students had never even applied in the past.

0:13:14.2 JM: That’s fantastic.

0:13:14.8 JA: Yeah, it was really super excited that colleges like Columbia College and Butler, commented on seeing a whole new set of students. NACAC published that research brief on expanding access and equity in admissions, and highlighted Greenlight match. I remember seeing that article and thinking, “Oh my gosh” and it was so amazing to see Greenlight Match get highlighted in that NACAC report. And then most recently, the NACAC Journal told a pretty amazing story of a student and then documented students from Chicago who received nearly a full scholarship from Knox College. A school that she had never even thought about.

0:13:53.2 JM: Yeah, that was fantastic. That was a really, really great piece. And I was gonna ask you actually that we’re expanding into more regions now and 6 more regions this fall.

0:14:06.7 JA: Yes, yeah, yeah. We’re gonna be in six new parts of the country, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, St Paul, New York City and Philadelphia. And all of these regions were talking every day to leading College Access organizations, high schools, colleges, our students just like in Chicago options will be coming from our regional college access community, so leading CBOs and high schools in each of those regions. In all of these markets, we’re talking to colleges and universities that consider these areas to be important markets for them. Overall, as we look at Chicago, plus those six new markets, we’re looking to have nearly 13,000 students on the platform this fall, so we’re talking that about 20 times as many students as we had last fall in our pilots. So it’s really, really exciting. And a lot of work.

0:15:10.3 JM: Such wonderful days.

0:15:10.9 JA: Yeah, Joe, there’s been a lot of notice in the press recently about the concept of direct admissions. Many articles mentioned Concourse or Greenlight Match as part of this narrative. How do you see Greenlight Match and the work we do… Work that we are doing together, how do you see that as a leap beyond what people might think of as direct admissions.

0:15:42.6 JM: Right. Well, first, what I love about direct admissions overall is institutions trying to be creative and how to remove barriers, so I’m very supportive of anything that removes barriers for students, Greenlight Match is really the next generation beyond direct admissions, because it’s different in a couple of ways. I’d say the most important is kind of the deep community that it’s connected into through your work, it’s a very complete ecosystem that involves collaborating with counselors and providing resources for them to help their students, and so having that personal side to it, and then the other side to it is just around the technology itself, I think it’s one thing to just send a letter to a student saying You’ve been admitted, but for you to claim this offer, you have to go through most of the same hoops you had to go through before anyway, it’s another thing to have a tool where universities and counselors and students can kind of at lightning speed exchange offers and acceptances really easily, so having the right software, it means it’s less work for the admissions office. And we have electronic application delivery into slate now, that’s kind of taken Greenlight Match to the next level. So we’re all working on the same problem, which is how do we make it easier for students?

0:17:10.0 JA: You mentioned certainly making things easier for colleges is also important, we talk a lot about how we’re making things easier for the counselor and the CBO, on the CBO side, certainly counselors love the fact that students can take 30 minutes to complete a profile and then a week later, they’re getting offers from amazing Colleges and there are no essays required, there’s no letters of recommendation. So it makes their job easier. Could you talk about how potentially the platform makes it easier for colleges.

0:17:40.4 JM: Yeah, one thing the platform does, which is really important, is it really helps colleges with the top of the funnel, like how do you reach students and get them to apply in the first place, and today that involves marketing spend, it involves travel, it involves creating physical marketing collateral, there’s a lot of cost to it, and so Greenlight Match changes that because we have community-based organizations who are working with college bound students, putting them right into the platform, and basically as an institution with just a few mouse clicks you basically start building your top of your funnel, I want you, I want you, I want you. And interested students who are not delivered electronically straight to slate, so the main work that colleges have to do in the Greenlight Match world is focus on those students who have entered their funnel and have conversations with them to help them understand, Here’s what you need to do to follow through on your offer, I think the next battle ground, we’re entering a hyper-competitive time for higher education.

0:18:46.0 JM: And I think institutions will compete partly by getting in front of students and getting their offers out earlier, which Greenlight Match technology will help with, but also just providing a little more service post-offer, making sure that especially first generation students who might not be getting guidance from family, they need a little help from the institutions on What should I do next, Where do I sign up for my courses, help booking accommodation, all those things I think will have an additional benefit in terms of improving yield as well, because you’re building that relationship with the student before matriculation.

0:19:23.5 JA: One of the things I love about Greenlight Match is that it almost moves colleges towards the cohorted recruitment model, where they can admit several students from one organization, which allows them the opportunity to do… And know right now, colleges are challenged. Sometimes I’ll go to a high school, and they’ll be in a room with one students. A great thing about Greenlight Match is, again, they’ll admit a number of students from a single organization, which will allow them to have an admitted student event at that school with several students. They can bring a busload of students to their campus. It gives them all kinds of opportunities to be much more efficient in their recruitment.

0:20:00.8 JM: True.

0:20:02.0 JA: And also it really moves them more towards the engagement and really allows them to focus on what’s important in yielding students. Joe, you’ve talked about the benefit of Greenlight Match for colleges. Could you talk about students for a moment? What does receiving an offer early from a college, what are some of the benefits that this whole new paradigm has for students who might not think that they’re college material?

0:20:28.1 JM: Yeah, it’s a great question. First and foremost, for students who are anxious about whether they are gonna get accepted somewhere and they’re really in a panic about being rejected, this is so positive of an experience. You know, if you can only imagine the student who instead of going through kind of six months of anxiety creates a profile early in September and before the month is out, is holding five or six admission offers. And what we’ve heard is the first time a student gets an offer through the Greenlight Match Program, they often don’t believe it. They go to their counselor and say, “Wait, is this real?” And they’re like, “Yeah, you just got into college,” [laughter] and it’s a revelation. I mean, a lot of students, it’s life-changing. So that’s the first thing, it’s really a positive experience. It gets information into the hands of students earlier, but then also really important is it gets financial information into the students’ hands earlier as well. So by getting information early on about merit awards that are available from that college, they can calculate much sooner what’s the total cost of college gonna be, the family has more time to plan finances, students can make better decisions. So early information about where they can go and how much it’s gonna cost, that’s really important, especially in a time when people are graduating with too much student debt. So those are some of the reasons. Yeah.

0:21:56.8 JA: Yeah, that’s really powerful. As we look into, I guess, the future of this combination of EAB and Concourse, are there any new iterations of Concourse that you see moving forward?

0:22:14.4 JM: Well, it’s exciting. First of all, I think it’s a great combination. We’re gonna be able to work more closely together, grow the Greenlight Match Program faster. We’re gonna have more resources to kind of enhance the Concourse software platform even faster than we have been. We’re gonna continue our global match program, which is kind of where we started. Those were our roots in international student recruitment. So one benefit is universities are gonna be able to come to EAB, and with one platform, be able to reach international students they couldn’t reach before and domestic students in the US that are really desirable but they were also having trouble reaching. So all that’s exciting. Lots more platform features coming. Integration into more CRM systems, better tools to the admissions offices can work through students and issue offers efficiently. Lots of good things to come. And of course, we’re coming up with a new version of our student portal shortly. That’s really exciting. It’s gonna make it even more kind of easy for students to kind of navigate all the admission offers that are coming in for them.

0:23:20.5 JA: As we go forward, Joe, what do you want universities to take away from this? What kinds of colleges should become partners with Greenlight Match and Global Match?

0:23:36.6 JM: I love that question. I would say, first and foremost, the traditional application process works for many students, but it does not… Definitely does not work for all students. You know, to reach hard-to-reach populations of students in a competitive environment, universities have to make it easier for the student. That’s the first thing. We have to bring barriers down. And the second thing I’d say is that I think our Chicago partnership last year demonstrated that this technology and this approach to admission really works. It really helps colleges reach underserved populations of students, let them know early in the cycle that they’re wanted, exchange more information in order to actually kind of create a viable enrollment opportunity that might have not have been there before. So I think the second thing is, our experiment showed that this model works, and I think the third thing that is interesting is reading some of the exciting press that’s coming out about all these new initiatives around new approaches to admission, I think institutions are ready to try new things. It’s becoming a very competitive environment, and I’m feeling an openness to new approaches to admission. We talk to a lot of admissions officers who see our platform, they’re like, “I’m excited about making it easier for students,” and so I think it’s a good time for new tools and technologies.

0:25:01.8 JA: From my perspective talking to CBOs and school counselors every day, I know there’s a huge thirst for services that will improve the process for students, help students get better outcomes. I was just at a conference, and every time I go, they’re amazed by how many workarounds counselors need to make things better for their students. And I really believe that Greenlight Match and this whole new model can create phenomenal outcomes for students, and I’m… Yeah, I’m just honored, Joe, to have met you and to have been able to put this combination together. For counselors that are out there, yeah, we would love more schools to adopt Greenlight Match. We’d love more CBOs to be part of the work that we’re doing together. Yeah, I’m happy to talk to any school counselor, any CBO advisor about the meaningful work that we’re doing together.

0:26:05.3 JM: Yeah. Well, that’s great to hear. We’re equally excited about this partnership and to have met you because we have a fantastic platform that we knew works wonderfully in an international context, but this was the entry point that I think we’d always been looking for. And how do we bring this to the US to create more opportunities. So yeah, it’s gonna be fun this next few years.

0:26:32.1 JA: Joe, it’s been great. Yeah, thanks for joining me here today. I hope we have the chance to come back soon to talk about where we’ll be in a few months with Greenlight Match. Thanks so much for joining Joe and me today. Yeah, excited to be with you all.

0:26:51.1 JM: Thanks, Jonathan. I enjoyed the chat.


0:27:00.6 S1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week when we examine how staffing challenges are threatening the ability of admissions teams to meet enrollment targets that generate the very revenue that keeps their institutions afloat. Until next week. Thank you for your time.


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