OCTOBER 12-13, 2021

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Report of the Character Collaborative Annual Meeting, October 6-7, 2020

The annual meeting of the Character Collaborative was held in an online format over two days, with 167 participants representing colleges, schools, reform projects, research entities and national associations. The meeting sessions included panels, fireside chats, and small group discussions. The small groups discussions were organized by constituency: colleges, schools, reformers/researchers, and independent educational consultants. Notes were kept for each session. Zoom recordings for the panels and fireside chats were sent to participants.

The meeting focused on these topics:

  • recent developments and challenges facing admission in the current academic year
  • characteristics of a new selection paradigm
  • avenues for incorporating a new paradigm into the ethos of schools and colleges

The aim of the meeting was to provide useful insight and ideas for the 2020-2021 admission cycle and beyond. The aim of this report is to present a concise summary of the major observations, conclusions and recommendations of the meeting. We recognize that the summary necessarily obscures the richness and depth of the discussions that occurred.

A. Recent Developments

There was consensus that the admission paradigm is already shifting due to these related developments: 

  • Reduced impact of standardized testing by virtue of movement to test optional approach, postponing of testing for a year or more, or decision to be “test blind”
  • Renewed commitment to access and equity in admission
  • Emergence of a more holistic approach to admission, including increased attention to character factors in admission decisions
  • With the tumult of the current moment, recognition that this is a golden opportunity for admission reform
  • Beyond the immediate need to recruit students to campus and meet institutional goals, a growing perception that college admission should serve society in multiple ways: (1) open doors of access for excluded students; (2) create a humane and unified campus environment; (3) put youth on a path to success and happiness; (4) ultimately, make the world a better place           

B. Challenges and Pressures

These developments coincide with severe pressure on institutional budgets due to COVID-19 costs, enrollment fluctuations, and an altered educational model. Other pressures of the current situation include:

  • Absence of face-to-face interaction between admission staff and prospective students and their parents
  • Dissatisfaction with online education model and related reluctance to enroll, with increased interest in “gap year” idea
  • Virtual communication is an obstacle for families and schools lacking internet capability, further eroding access and equity
  • With standardized testing taking a back-seat, admission offices are forced to revise their assessment process
  • Absence of test scores (i.e., a plug-in number in the admission equation) immediately elevates the importance of implementing a more holistic review process in a fair and consistent way
  • With changes in the admission process, admission and counseling staff need ongoing professional development and support
  • Increased importance for admission offices to provide clear information and authentic transparency in communicating with students, parents, counselors and the general public
  • Reality of stress among the players (students, parents, counselors, admission staff, institutional leaders, etc.)

C.  Characteristics of a New Admission Paradigm

Participants agreed that a new admission paradigm will be shaped by this assumption: standardized testing is likely to have a diminished role in the immediate, and perhaps long-term, future. From this starting point, it is envisioned that admission in the future will have  — must have –these characteristics:

  • A reconfigured decision matrix, determined by each institution to meet its needs and applied consistently within an institution, that might consist of (1) a deeper analysis of grades and other academic indicators, (2) new or more robust measures of non-academic factors and (3) revised weighting of factors that make up the admission decision
  • Given the absence of face-to-face communication, new avenues for communicating and recruiting prospective students (e.g., Zoom meetings; video links sent to students, parents and schools)
  • Renewed discussion and consensus on what student attributes are important to one’s institution, drawing on mission statements, other guiding documents, and discussion among institutional members
  • Adoption of research-based measures to assess non-academic factors, such as character attributes
  • Creative strategies for reaching out to students and families outside the mainstream of information flow and college resources, especially in neighborhoods where schools lack academic and counseling resources
  • Given new assessment goals and methods, an experimental mindset (i.e., readiness to study the impact of admission priorities and decisions)
  • Improved articulation between colleges and schools, especially with respect to what colleges are looking for, how colleges will assess candidates, and how college counselors can effectively support their students in the college process
  • Ongoing professional development of admission staff that addresses the complexity of the admission process and the need for expertise
  • For each institution, methods for ensuring that assessments are consistent and fair for all applicants to the school
  • Adoption of admission processes that signal the importance of character in education and in college admission

D. Bringing a New Admission Paradigm to Reality

Although the meeting discussion did not enunciate an overall strategy for incorporating a new paradigm within colleges and schools, several discussion points pertained to this goal:

  • Build institutional consensus about the values and aims of the admission process, reinforced by ongoing interaction between the admission team and faculty, administration and the board
  • Signal publicly and repetitively the importance of holistic admission, especially the aim of seeking students of character (performance; ethical; intellectual)
  • Build an admission process (e.g., tools; assessment criteria; rating methods) that matches institutional values and meets professional expectations of consistency, validity and fundamental fairness
  • Work closely with schools, students and parents to communicate the goals and procedures of the admission process
  • Conduct and report on institutional research that shows the impact of character on the admission process and how the findings match (or don’t match) the philosophy and mission of the institution

E. What Next?

Recognizing both the advantages and disadvantages of a Zoom format, participant evaluations of the meeting indicated high satisfaction with the format and topics of the meeting. Several useful recommendations will help us design future meetings.

In a follow-up meeting with the Character Collaborative board, it was suggested that we schedule a follow-up three-hour meeting in late winter 2021 to discuss developments and progress since our October meeting. Further information will be forthcoming.

We are grateful for the thoughtful contributions and wisdom of every participant in the annual meeting. Perhaps we are indeed on the cusp of a new, more successful and more inclusive admission paradigm. To that end, the Character Collaborative, in partnership with NACAC, will be making available soon after the start of the new year our first training course on assessing character in admission.  Stay tuned for more details after the first of the year.


Character Collaborative Annual Report, 2019-2020

 by David Holmes


This has been a year of accelerated momentum for the Character Collaborative: membership growth, expanded national recognition, and significant project development. In response to the effects of COVID-19, the Collaborative has established a heightened virtual presence for the March-June period and beyond. We will enter the new academic year positioned — better than ever — to support and catalyze the elevation of character attributes in admission. 


In the fourth year since its founding in 2016, the Character Collaborative’s membership roster is as follows:

34 colleges and universities; 28 secondary schools; 7 educational associations; 11 reform projects; 48 individuals (educational consultants and the interested individuals)

Collaborative memberships have grown each year since the first meeting in Columbus, Ohio in 2016.  Looking ahead, the Collaborative aims to (1) increase significantly the number of members and (2) accelerate efforts to add public universities and public schools.

Agenda Development and Implementation

The agenda and action plans of the Collaborative were developed and refined at meetings of the full membership (September 2019) and the Board of Directors (February 2020). 

Annual Meeting, Sept. 25-26, 2019, Louisville, KY (at NACAC national conference)

With seventy Collaborative members in attendance, the meeting included a series of  briefings, an after-dinner panel, and small group discussions focused on “Standards of Good Practice for Including Character in Admission” and on strategic and tactical goals for the Collaborative in the foreseeable future.

The group agreed on the following actions: survey of membership to discern expertise and interests; creation of 6 working task forces; refining of Standards of Good Practice” documents; redesign of Collaborative website. Each of these steps have been implemented. The task forces and chairs are as follows:

                        Resource Guide (Sam Rikoon, ETS )     

                        Online professional Development (Lynn Holcomb, Colgate University)

                        Athletics and Character (Mike Schell, Catholic Memorial HS, and Brennan Barnard, Derryfield School)

                        Presentations and Writing (Florence Hines, St. Lawrence University)

                        Membership Expansion (Lee Dieck, The Masters School;)

                        Fundraising (Dan Sullivan, President Emeritus, St. Lawrence University)

Mid-Year Board Meeting, February 17-18, 2020, Swarthmore College

The meeting focused on “what we need to do to become a thriving organization that has an authentic impact on the role of character in admission.” The chairs of our task forces reported on progress to date. In addition, the board agreed on several  actions to strengthen our “brand” and upgrade the marketing of the Collaborative,   including:

  • create a new website and logo 
  • establish a virtual presence via LinkedIn and other avenues
  • gain exposure through conference presentations, op eds, partnerships, etc.

            As of April 2020, the Collaborative has a new website and logo, created a Linkedin site, made numerous presentations at conferences or in webinars, and published op eds. Bob Massa’s essay published by Inside Higher Ed had wide exposure and elicited many comments. Brennan Barnard’s regular blog posts include narratives            about character in admission and references to the Character Collaborative.


Collaborative Treasurer, Bill Conley, and Executive Director, David Holmes, oversee the annual budget of the Collaborative. The Collaborative’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. Anticipated end-of-year income for 2019-2020 is about $64,000. Anticipated expense for 2019-2020 is about $44,000. The balance of $20,000 will go forward into next year’s budget as “deferred income” and will be used to fund the projects listed above which have experienced a slowdown due to COVID-19.

Other Developments

There are several other developments that advance the mission of the Collaborative. 

  • Thanks to Bill Conley’s efforts, the Collaborative joined with NACAC on its annual national survey of college admissions to include, for the first time, inquiries about the role of character. The results documented the important role of character: 70% of respondents indicated that character attributes are a “considerable” or “moderate” factor in admission. Comments by Collaborative members were included in the NACAC press release. The study can be found on the Collaborative’s website. 
  • The Athletics and Character Task Force designed and planned a “Summit” at Swarthmore College for early June, with 100 participants from across the nation. Due to COVID-19, the two-day event has been postponed until a later date. 
  • Sam Rikoon and David Holmes designed and implemented a survey of colleges on admission practices that incorporate character attributes. Eighteen members of the Character Collaborative completed the survey. The survey follows up on the NACAC national survey by eliciting detail on admission practices. An executive summary of the findings can be found on the Collaborative’s new LinkedIn site or on our website. The full report has been submitted for publication. 
  • COVID-19 has had an impact on conferences scheduled for this spring and summer. Many members of the Collaborative were scheduled to speak but these events have been cancelled. In lieu of conference meetings, numerous webinars have been implemented involving Collaborative members.