Why CBOs Can Help Improve Yield Amidst

a Time of Uncertainty in Higher Ed

COVID-19 Insights


Jonathan April

   Written by Jonathan April, General Manager of College Greenlight

   Published on April 22, 2020


Students who are a part of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and the college access community all have one thing in common: they’re motivated. They want to go to college — the very act of participating in CBOs and the college access community indicates their intentions. 

Inspired by their high-achieving students, CBOs and other access organizations have rallied during this pandemic to do something that many higher education institutions are still in the process of mastering which is staying connected and working hard to secure resources for  students. 

Several CBOs and college access organizations actually began as virtual programs, so their experience far exceeds many other schools, businesses, and organizations. Even those that don’t have historical experience hosting their programming online have now rapidly and robustly reacted to the needs of their students — it’s their entire purpose. 

These tenacious groups exist in droves across the US, thousands serving students nationwide, with College Greenlight supporting upwards of 1,600 of them. They play an active role in the frontlines, attending virtual webinars, tours, and more. 

College Greenlight hosted a webinar in tandem with Macalester College with a surprising response — nearly 1,600 registants, with 1,000 of them watching the webinar live, doubling standard attendance. 

That’s a minimum of 1,000 CBO and college access representatives who then went back to student groups, determined students who would fit well with Macalester, and encouraged them to apply or choose, wherever the students are in their stages. 

Emmanuel Moses, Associate Director of College Guidance and Transition with The Opportunity Network, emphasizing this, saying, “Emails from colleges might get lost in the shuffle, but we have multiple points of communication with students and can prioritize sharing crucial programs, resources, and information.”

Another unique advantage to pairing with CBOs is that they often have first contact with students junior year or earlier. They learn about their students as individuals and work with them extensively to determine what kind of college will help them flourish. Their goal is to place students at colleges that make the best holistic match based on finding an academic, social, and geographic fit. The ultimate success is for that student to graduate with a baccalaureate degree. 

For these reasons, and many more, we highly encourage college admissions officers to reach out to the college access community.  These include counselors and advisers working at non-profit college access and success organizations, Department of Education-funded programs (e.g. TRiO, GEAR Up), and high schools supporting students from under-resourced backgrounds. 

The benefits from nurturing these relationships won’t have an expiration date, and will help institutions get connected with more qualified underrepresented students post-pandemic. Establishing a relationship with these CBOs and college access organizations is likely easier than you think, as well.  


1. Actively embrace the college access community at this most challenging time.

Erica Rosales, Executive Director at College Match, breaks down what the drastic changes her students are weathering due to COVID-19, saying “We cancelled our annual East Coast trips that were scheduled for early April. We have also taken our SAT classes online. We will most likely run our summer admission workshops virtually. Communication from colleges letting our juniors know that we are all in this together and that admission offices will be understanding of the new normal is crucial to avoid added anxiety.”

Reach out to organizations and ask them, “How can I be helpful to your team and students?” 

This might involve doing a virtual admissions workshop instead of an info session. Building trust with you and your institution will be an investment worth making. Jesse Carrillo, Director of Strategic Partnerships with EMERGE, writes, “While we are limited in some ways, there may be ways for us to collaborate in new and innovative ways to reach more students and build upon relationships between our teams. We are excited to be a part of that conversation!”

2. Build awareness and enhance your reputation as a supportive home for first-gen, low-income, and underrepresented students.

Many institutions already feature special and supportive programs — the issue at hand is whether CBOs and other access organizations (ultimately students) know about them. 

When I am talking with colleges, I like to say that every CBO and high school in your recruitment markets has students that would be a good fit and match for your institution, regardless of institution selectivity. You want every counselor to know your institution and what makes you a unique and special home for first-gen students. 

For institutions with a lower brand awareness, developing an e-newsletter or physical mailing to CBO and school counselors can help you get on the radar of student advocates working and guiding students through the process. The University of Michigan, definitely a name brand, sends a physical packet of materials each year to all organizations in the College Greenlight CBO database. 

3. No longer "go where you know"; (virtually) visit schools and organizations where your team does not typically recruit.

The recruitment phrase “go where you know” (visiting schools year after year that produce applicants/deposits) causes institutions to replicate their class makeup each year and is no longer tenable with our country’s changing demographics and sliding numbers of high school graduates. 

COVID-19 further emphasizes the need for institutions to aggressively identify new recruitment areas. CBOs (and overlooked high schools) represent incredible new pools of talent. During this time, reach out to organizations and schedule virtual visits—whether you opt to do 1:1 or regional programs (a virtual counselor breakfast or lunch) with a limited number of organizations.

4. Make counselors aware of your important opportunities (e.g. scholarships, pre-college programs).

Many institutions have made significant investments in programming for underserved students (e.g. visit opportunities, summer programs) as well as unique scholarship opportunities, but there are large information gaps.

Every year we learn about life-changing programs that have little awareness within the college access community.  Emmanuel Moses from Opportunity Network suggests: “It’s important for colleges to loop in a CBO point of contact and counselors on communication with students. This ensures that their messages and information will be received and understood by the students and their families.”

5. Consider going test-optional, at least for the high school class of 2021.

With spring SAT and ACT testing dates cancelled, many institutions (e.g. University of California, Case Western, Boston University, Scripps, Davidson) are going test optional for next year’s class (and beyond for some).


Concluding Thoughts

CBO and school counselors feel a fiduciary responsibility for their students, wanting to guide them to attend institutions that will be supportive of them—throughout the admissions process and all the way to graduation. 

In these uncertain times, what counselors need most is positive, compassionate, and honest communication from colleges. In return, these relationships will help college admissions officers to effectively yield and recruit students from underserved communities.

If you don’t know where to begin, we here at College Greenlight can help. Since 2012, we’ve worked diligently to become an important admissions ally for underrepresented students, supporting 1,600 organizations and 15,000 counselors through free resources.