President’s Column: Updates from the NACAC Board of Directors Meeting

By David Burge

As I settle back into my office after a few gluttonous days of Thanksgiving surrounded by friends and family, I am taking stock of what needs to be done before the holidays and what has already been accomplished as the year slams to a close. A big part of both lists was guided by the two-and-a-half days spent at the NACAC offices in mid-November for the first full board meeting to occur since the national conference in Boston. While the board voted to approve a new budget, discussed a number of signature issues, and generally got to know each other as professionals—this board has six new members in case you didn’t know—there are three things that emerged from these meetings that I want to bring to your attention.

First, we set annual goals for ourselves as a board. I’m a big believer in using goals to establish priorities and benchmark performance. The better we can be at defining these before the year begins, the better we will be at remaining true to our cause. The goals we discussed and voted on were not goals for the organization, those are well-documented in the strategic plan. Rather, we set collective goals for ourselves as leaders within the organization.

This is not a new exercise. But the character of the board was really shown through the addition of an entirely new goal that had not previously been articulated -- “Be responsive to members’ concerns through visibility and facilitating dialogue on a variety of platforms.”

I assume every NACAC board has had this goal in mind as they set about their work.  And, further, that the majority of those inspired to run for board service carried with them the aspiration of better connecting the work of the membership at-large to the specific work of the board. So while the inclusion of this new verbiage does not represent a sea change for the board or the organization, it is a welcome amendment that acknowledges a new reality of how the board interacts with members in the digital era.

The board expects to be better connected with an increasingly diverse and growing membership engaging in entirely different platforms than we did a decade ago. We don’t have to wait for the affiliate or national conferences to engage. We want to do that on a regular basis through social media, email, or by just picking up the phone. While the board may not always be able to produce the results you desire, we are committed to seriously considering new items raised directly by our more than 15,000 members and providing specific responses as to next steps or reasons why those steps can’t occur.

Secondly, we discussed and endorsed the extension of the ad hoc committee on STEM College and Career Fairs. The previous advisory committee, which completed its two-year term at the 2017 National Conference and primarily was comprised of counseling and admission professionals, had focused on developing the program’s basic design and was instrumental in its launch.  If not for the work of this committee we would not have been as successful with these programs as we have been since their initiation in 2016.

The STEM College and Career Fairs provide us with a rare confluence of good things: They better connect students with colleges/universities providing a good fit; the proceeds help fund other NACAC initiatives that are central to the strategic plan; and they provide a focused opportunity for students to connect directly with employers eager to fill the vacant, but essential, positions of tomorrow. The next iteration of the advisory committee will help set goals and priorities for obtaining more corporate involvement; develop effective marketing approaches to reach corporate and professional groups; advise on potential grants, sponsorships, and other funding opportunities; and suggest content for workshops. We will look directly to employers in the field to help us craft the next generation of these programs and invites will soon be sent to those we think might be a good match.

The message from the board in this action is simple: Make the STEM College and Career Fairs even more beneficial to students/parents; grow revenue that can be reinvested into other aspects of NACAC’s strategic plan; and think outside of the box when it comes to partnerships with employers—a relatively new step for the organization.

Finally, the board heard from Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy from the National College Access Network, to help us frame the work ahead of us in the coming year. We are living in a volatile time when it comes to the public’s perception of the value of higher education and it should be known that the benefits of higher education are not as clearly understood by the general public as they were 20 years ago. As recently as this past weekend, the Washington Post published an article highlighting the views of an increasingly vocal minority who do not believe higher education has a positive impact on individuals or communities and deny that access to postsecondary education boosts America’s standing in the world.

NACAC’s Current Trends and Future Issues Committee tagged this as an area of concern for the organization in February. And we have been preparing to make this effort a central theme for the coming year. A few highlights from Carrie’s talk include:

  • Research from the College Board points directly to five benefits to the individual from earning a four-year degree: greater wealth, more security, better health, closer family, and stronger community.
  • Those with college degrees are more likely to be employed and are more likely to maintain employment during times of economic downturn—yes, that is even true for the first millennials to enter the job market.
  • “Fit” is an essential part of this conversation—matching students to the right path for earning a college degree helps ensure success. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, almost 25 percent of students end up graduating from an institution other than where they started.

As an organization, we will promote the value of a four-year degree and all the available paths for students to earn that degree. It is the most powerful agent of social mobility in our society and one that each of us is committed to in one way, shape, or form through our day jobs. Carrie’s pep talk on the value of American higher education will be actualized over the course of the next year as the NACAC Board lends its voice to this important national conversation.

We have plenty of work in front of us before the board meets again in February and I look forward to sharing those highlights with you as well. More than ever, I am convinced that the NACAC Board of Directors is a highly functional, energetic, and responsive group of leaders dedicated to help charter a responsible course for the organization and its members for years to come.

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