Education

Iowa Board of Regents ditching $290,000 web tool few applicants use

Portal lets prospective students apply to multiple regent campuses

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (The Gazette)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In the four years since Iowa’s Board of Regents spent $290,000 launching a “common application portal” for students wanting to apply for admission to more than one of its universities, just about 400 of its hundreds of thousands of applicants have used it.

Now the board is getting rid of it.

“Given the low usage of the Iowa Public Universities Application Portal, the small number of students that apply to more than one regent university, and the adoption of the national Common Application by all three regent universities, the Regent Universities Admissions Study Team recommends the discontinuation of the this portal,” according to a proposal the board will consider next week.

The portal was an outgrowth of a broader 2014 board-ordered efficiency study that cost the regents more than $3.3 million. The idea behind the portal was to save prospective students time and money by allowing to them to send in just one set of answers and documents to questions and requests common to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

But because the regent universities use an admission index to assure acceptance based on a transparent set of metrics including grade-point average, ACT scores and complete courses, most Iowa students don’t need to apply to more than one public institution as a backup.

Additionally, none of the three public universities endorsed the portal on their own websites or linked to it from their application pages — despite a suggestion in the board documents that university and regent officials promoted it.

“Despite outreach efforts, the Iowa Public Universities Application Portal usage numbers remain low, as does the percentage of Iowans that apply to more than one regent university,” the documents said. “Nearly 90 percent of resident applicants apply to only one of the three regent universities.”

Of the 53,000-plus new freshmen applicants in 2016 — the first year of the common portal — just 111 completed application using it. That number remained low at 96 in 2017 and 137 in 2018 before plummeting to 66 this fall.

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Additionally, all three regent universities use a National Common Application, to which more than 800 other colleges and universities subscribe, in hopes of easing the application burden for students interested in applying to more than one institution.

Although startup costs were projected at $290,000, with another $100,000 expected in annual ongoing costs, regents spokesman Josh Lehman said those maintenance costs were absorbed into “the normal course of business.”

“Two-hundred ninety thousand dollars was the cost to set up and implement the portal in the first year,” he said. “There have been no annual costs since then.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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