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Common app portal for Iowa, ISU, UNI to cost $290,000 in first year

Regents: 'It will improve convenience and efficiency for students'

A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, Mar. 11, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, Mar. 11, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

A new common application portal aimed at improving efficiency for undergraduate prospects wanting to apply to more than one of Iowa’s three public universities is expected to cost about $290,000 to create and implement in its first year.

Those initial costs include $90,000 spent to develop the portal between November and June and another $200,000 in anticipated costs between July and June 2016 — the first year of implementation. Annual ongoing costs are anticipated in the neighborhood of $100,000, and that’s “above and beyond the ongoing (information technology) and other support costs of each of the admissions offices,” according to Board of Regents documents made public Tuesday.

“Significant reallocations of personnel and time occurred” in developing the common application portal, which was recommended through an efficiency review the board launched last year of its public universities, according to board documents.

The portal, which will become available to direct-from-high-school U.S. students July 1 for admission in fall 2016, is expected to save students interested in applying to more than one of Iowa’s public universities time and energy — but not cost, as they still will have to pay a $40 application fee per institution to which they apply.

“It will improve convenience and efficiency for students … because they do not have to address the majority of questions on each application each time they apply,” according to Board of Regents spokeswoman Sheila Koppin.

Iowa State University has agreed to host the common application portal, according to regent documents, and it will need one full-time staff member to handle the portal and respond to questions. Ongoing budgetary support and continued development of the portal will be shared among ISU, University of Iowa, and University of Northern Iowa, the new documents show.

When asked about additional work the new portal might create for admissions staff, Koppin said in a statement, the universities are “set up to address multiple aspects of admissions.”

“This is just one of those aspects,” according to Koppin.

She said it’s too soon to tell whether the institutions will save any money in the long run, but the board office believes the upfront and annual costs will be worth the benefit provided to students.

According to board documents, however, only a small portion of applicants to the regent universities apply to more than one — and an even smaller fraction apply to all three. For fall 2014, for example, 35,305 applications came into the institutions, and only 324 — or less than one percent — applied to all three universities.

About 11 percent, or 3,969, applied to two of the universities, meaning nearly 88 percent applied to just one institution.

Of the total applicants, 278 Iowa residents — or 0.8 percent — applied to all three universities, 2,110 residents — or 6 percent — applied to two universities, and 9,574 residents — or 27 percent — applied to just one, according to regent documents.

And those students who do apply to more than one university still will be required to answer separate application questions specific to each university. The common portal simply combines all questions common to the three universities and, once students submit the common application, they receive email notifications from each university directing them to complete a list of remaining questions.

“The questions that were not in common typically were the result of unique data collection needs at each university,” according to board documents.

Phil Caffrey, director of admissions operations and policy at Iowa State, said each university had to make mostly minor concessions to come up with wording for those common questions. But not all questions could be combined, he said, “Because we are three very different kinds of institutions.”

Still, Caffrey said, the portal saves students time on the majority of questions. And, he said, from the admissions standpoint, much of the work will become automatic.

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“There was work in setting the process up and doing all the computer programing,” he said. “But once it’s up, it’s pretty much automated.”

Board of Regents Office staff will present the common application portal to members of the board at its meeting Thursday and, if approved, staff members will begin publicizing the portal and informing Iowa high schools.

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