November 2023

Meredith Fergus
Meredith Fergus, director of research at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and co-manager of the program

Imagine high school seniors knowing in the fall that they’ll get into colleges — a lot of colleges — without having sent in any applications. That’s what’s happened at 100-plus Minnesota high schools, with thousands of students receiving letters listing the colleges they’ll be accepted at.

Now in its second year, the State of Minnesota’s Direct Admissions program provides tailored information for high school seniors, based on their academic performance to-date. Fourteen nonprofit colleges that are Minnesota Private College Council members are among the participating higher ed institutions.

The result? A lot more students see they have options.

“We have a cadre of students who opt out of the college search process; they aren’t sure where they can go, they don’t think they’re college material or don’t think they can afford it,” said Meredith Fergus, director of research at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and co-manager of the program. “But giving them information about their options and not leaving it to them to opt out, hopefully it will encourage them to go to a Minnesota college and have a positive experience.”

The fall timing helps too, Fergus said, with students and families having more time to consider whether college can be affordable. “We can talk more about the finance side sooner, she said, to make it a more mindful, thoughtful process.”

Concordia University, St. Paul, is one of the many private colleges that are part of the program. Tom Halligan, director of undergraduate admission, sees the value in helping more high schoolers realize that college is accessible.

Tom Halligan
Tom Halligan, director of undergraduate admission at Concordia University, St. Paul

“The best thing it has done is to take away the fear and anxiety,” Halligan said. “We want students to know these institutions are accessible and are a fit, and maybe giving students a chance to have access to a school that they didn’t even think they should approach.”

The program has grown to 120 participating high schools this year, up from the 40 that participated and sent letters in the first pilot year. Halligan is expecting to see the impact of the growth as more students receive the list of where they’ll be able to be accepted.

And the first communication that students receive, tailored to them, offers links to the listed colleges, helping students dig in and learn more. Students welcome the invitation to do just that. “Counselors like the change in the conversation,” Fergus said. “Students asking ‘which college should I pick?’ is different from ‘should I go to college?’”

For some students, the private colleges on the list may be new options.

“This program does a great job of letting students know that all these private colleges are accessible and they may be a better fit than an institution that is public,” Halligan said.

That idea that private colleges aren’t within reach is one Halligan understands well. As a high school student he thought that private colleges weren’t even worth applying too, that they were too exclusive. After starting at a public university he ended up understanding he had options and transferred to Concordia University, St. Paul.

“To be able to have this program allows us to tear down that initial wall; we can let them know that they belong here, they can succeed here,” he said. “It helps us share that private colleges are a great option and you would be a great fit for our university,” he said. “We want you to know that you can consider us as a realistic option.”

Students at Direct Admission high schools will still need to connect with the colleges and complete applications, but things will move faster and they’ll have a positive outcome, Fergus said, as long as they follow the steps college set out. “I say Direct Admissions is moving students to the fast lane, letting them know which colleges will admit them.”

By John Manning