Celebrating Joyce Smith and 22 Years of Leadership

Leadership and service

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) announced the pending retirement of CEO Joyce E. Smith after 22 years as the association’s chief executive.

The first African American woman to serve in the position, Joyce has led NACAC through more than two decades of growth and change. Her leadership has had an indelible impact on the association and the college counseling and admission profession.

Dramatic changes in the education landscape

The education landscape changed dramatically during Joyce’s tenure. A few examples are:

  • The federal government began direct lending; for-profit institutions took center stage; and the 2003 Reauthorized Higher Ed Act was passed, expanding access to low- and middle-income students.

  • The technology revolution accelerated, with its transformative impact on schools and students through, for example, online courses and degrees that changed the way we traditionally thought about learning and the internet and social media.

  • Campus violence and other national tragedies increased markedly, affecting institutions large and small.

  • Critical debates began about rising college costs, affirmative action, undocumented students, and equitable access to higher education that continue today.

A period of growth for NACAC

Joyce has presided over a period of growth for NACAC. Under her leadership:

  • Membership has increased from approximately 6,000 members in the mid-1990s to more than 15,000 college counseling and admission professionals today;

  • The number of staff members has increased from 34 to 60;

  • The headquarters moved from Alexandria, VA to an Arlington, VA-based building valued at $7.3 million;

  • Since 1996, revenue grew from $5.2 million to over $17 million; assets grew from $5.8 million to more than $21 million; and investments and reserves grew from less than $1 million to over $12 million;

  • Attendance at NACAC’s signature event, the annual national conference, has more than doubled in 20 years from 3,518 attendees in San Francisco in 1997 to 7,934 attendees in Boston in 2017;

  • The association staff was restructured based on the needs of the membership as education and training, research, government relations, and global engagement gained importance;

  • The Guiding the Way to Inclusion conference continues to influence diversity recruitment and access across the country;

  • Changes to association governance led to a restructured board of directors that now includes appointed board members and the new designation of chief executive officer;

  • The National College Fair program hosts 95 fairs throughout the US annually, with nearly 200,000 students each year gaining exposure to more than 1,700 colleges, universities, and other postsecondary programs.

“I remain devoted to college counseling and admission and grateful for the opportunities our association gives us to network with 15,000 like-minded colleagues in the US and around the world. Most of all, I am grateful for the chance to do this essential work.” — Joyce Smith, 2019

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Biographical information

Joyce Smith, AmherstJoyce E. Smith previously worked in both public and private college admission at Kansas State University, Amherst College (MA), and Queens College of the City University of New York, where she served as executive director of admissions for undergraduate and graduate admissions, marketing, and scholarship services.

She worked for seven years with the College Board as a program service officer of the Student Search Service and associate director of the Admission Testing Program before coming to NACAC. 

She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology and a master’s degree in counseling from Kansas State University and completed additional study in education policy, planning, and administration at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Smith has served on the board of directors of the Association of Independent School Admission Professionals, the Institute for Higher Education Policy, the National Research Center for College and University Admissions, Scholarship America, and numerous other boards. She currently is an association representative to the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, a voluntary forum for chief executive officers of national higher education associations coordinated by the American Council on Education.

Photo: Joyce Smith, an admission recruiter for Amherst College (MA) in 1980, talking to students at Cuyahoga Community College (OH).

Milestones of key accomplishments

Together with NACAC members and staff, Joyce Smith has overseen nearly three decades of accomplishments.



  • Joyce E. Smith hired as NACAC associate executive director


  • Smith named executive director (now CEO)
  • NACAC Executive Board reaffirmed support of affirmative action
  • Assembly approved revisions to the Guidelines for Traditionally Underrepresented in Higher Education to include language inclusive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students
  • NACAC website redesigned, allowing members to register electronically for NACAC events for the first time


  • First Secondary School Counselor Survey published
  • National College Fair Fee Waiver process approved by the board of directors
  • First NACAC college camp program held at Hamilton College (NY) and University of Colorado-Boulder in cooperation with the I Have a Dream Foundation


  • Assembly revised the Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) to include language specifying May 1 as a postmark date
  • Workshop for Counselors of Color celebrated its 20th year
  • Smith joined the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, composed of influential higher education associations



  • Bylaw changes enacted divesting board members of committee oversight and giving the committees more autonomy
  • Online college fairs launched Oct. 19 with over 7,000 students, parents, and counselors participating
  • National conference student essay contest established
  • The Rising Star Award created to honor individuals and programs that exemplify excellence in serving the needs of students in the transition from high school to college 


  • NACAC addressed legal rights of undocumented students in American public education and offered advocacy resources
  • NACAC hosted the 57th National Conference in San Antonio, TX in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC on Sept. 11


  • Secondary School Counseling and Admission Trends Survey launched to enhance NACAC’s ongoing research into the state of college admission
  • NACAC ended the Online College Fair program due to lower than expected participation
  • The National Conference website debuted 


  • Inaugural State of College Admission report issued
  • Smith sent formal communication to President George W. Bush, expressing the association’s disappointment with his decision to oppose the University of Michigan’s admission policies
  • The Assembly approved new language in the Definitions of Admission Decision Options in Higher Education that precluded institutions from offering exclusive incentives to students admitted under early decision plans


  • The Board of Directors undertook a complete rewrite of the Statement of Principles of Good Practice and began the process of reorganizing the board’s makeup and duties


  • Following Hurricane Katrina, NACAC set up a centralized online message board for members to post information about updated school information policies, and job and volunteer opportunities
  • The Assembly and General Membership adopted a significantly revised governance model, changing the board to its current structure
  • NACAC published first edition of Fundamentals of College Counseling textbook
  • NACAC supported the DREAM Act, a bill in Congress that would have granted legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and went to school here 


  • Comprehensive review of the bylaws was launched


  • The Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission was formed 


  • Purchased a new headquarters in Arlington, VA
  • Launched the web-based Knowledge Center with resources and reports related to key issues such as college rankings, financing college, international students, marginalized populations, diversity and access, professional standards, transfer students, and more
  • Helped develop the Pathways to College bill, which targeted improved college access for the neediest students by establishing or strengthening college counseling programs in high schools
  • Created the Step-by-Step to College curriculum for first-generation and underserved students


  • In response to the national economic downturn, NACAC utilized several new technology tools to innovate, including webinars, the Admitted blog, and social media

2010 and beyond


  • Testified before Senate subcommittee on student recruitment practices of for-profit colleges
  • Delivered a copy of The Journal of College Admission, which focused on undocumented students, to all 535 members of Congress in support of the Dream Act
  • Conducted first National Action Week and generated 15,000 emails in support of the Pathways to College Act
  • Began discussions on the use of agents in international recruitment
  • Created the Legislative Action Center and action alerts to broaden NACAC advocacy


  • The Ad Hoc Committee on U.S. News & World Report released its final report recommending, in part, the removal of class rank and standardized testing from the rankings methodology


  • The Access College Fair was introduced as a new conference feature to connect attendees with nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping prepare students to enter and succeed in college


  • NACAC Exchange launched
  • First international national conference was held in Toronto, Canada
  • Assembly approved revisions to strengthen the SPGP regarding incentive-based agents and student recruitment
  • NACAC’s Department of International Initiatives was established 


  • National media campaign developed to call attention to the importance of public high school counselors
  • NACAC donated $200,000 to allow professionals—mainly from public high schools—to attend professional development
  • Smith attended a White House Summit to devise ways to connect more low-income students to college
  • NACAC’s Directory of College Access and Success Programs was created 


  • Assembly passed motions clarifying SPGP language about May 1 and terminology and definitions when naming application plans
  • Satellite headquarters office was opened in Arlington, VA


  • Steering Committee on Admission Practices appointed to review the SPGP, Monitoring Procedures and Penalties and related documents
  • An international universities fair was added in Vancouver, British Columbia; STEM College and Career Fairs was piloted in Houston, TX, New York, NY, and San Francisco, CA
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the Fisher II decision permitting the University of Texas-Austin’s use of race-conscious admission, a NACAC priority  


  • Assembly approved the revised SPGP: NACAC's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP), the first revision since 2007
  • The 2017 National Conference in Boston was the largest in NACAC history, with attendance of 7,934
  • US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division began an inquiry into the SPGP: NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice


  • A member of the Chickasaw Nation and a NACAC member offered a land acknowledgement at the national conference in Salt Lake City to honor the people who resided on the land before us; NACAC would start offering land acknowledgments at all events 


  • The name of the International Initiatives Department was changed to Global Engagement to better reflect NACAC’s collaboration with entities outside the US
  • NACAC worked toward resolving the Department of Justice inquiry
  • NACAC developed a podcast series in response to the Operation Varsity Blues bribery scandal
  • 40th annual Guiding the Way to Inclusion conference (formerly Counselors of Color) to be held
  • 75th National Conference to be held in Louisville, KY


With special thanks to Mary Lee Hoganson, author of the NACAC History.

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