NACAC CEO Joyce E. Smith to Retire in 2020

Arlington, VA (May 7, 2019) — The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) today announced the pending retirement of CEO Joyce E. Smith after 30 years of service to the association and 44 years in the college admission profession.

Smith will retire in summer 2020 upon successful appointment of NACAC’s next CEO.

NACAC President-elect Jayne Fonash is chairing the nationwide search for Smith’s successor, assisted by executive search firm Russell Reynolds. The position announcement, a list of search committee members, and the search timeline are forthcoming.

“It is almost impossible to cover the breadth of Joyce’s contributions to the association and profession she loves,” said NACAC President Stefanie Niles on behalf of the board of directors. “It’s even more difficult to convey our gratitude for her wisdom and dedication in guiding the association for almost three decades of unprecedented change.” 

Smith began her NACAC career in 1991 as associate executive director and later, acting executive director, before being named executive director (now CEO) in December 1996. She is the association’s longest-serving chief executive, with 22 years at the helm, and is the first African American woman to serve in the position.

She has presided over a period of significant growth for the organization.

  • 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.


At the same time, the education landscape has changed dramatically during Smith’s tenure. In her time at NACAC, 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; and critical debates began about rising college costs and equitable access to higher education that continue today. Over the years, NACAC members and staff testified before Congressional committees on these important issues.

Smith led NACAC through some of its most tumultuous times as the college admission process—and the profession itself—changed. During her first year as executive director, the association reaffirmed its support of affirmative action in response to multiple initiatives across the nation aimed at eliminating the practice in college admission. NACAC took a stand and pledged “unwavering commitment to all students’ access to college,” according to the association’s official history.

In addition, in 1997 the membership approved revisions to the Guidelines for Traditionally Underrepresented in Higher Education to add what was then an important new dimension—language that is inclusive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.

Other milestones in her tenure include the standardization of May 1 as the country’s college decision date; NACAC’s leadership regarding early action and early decision, need-blind vs. need-based aid, and other critical topics; and the organization’s engagement in issues of ethical and professional practice that became reflected in the association’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice (now called the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices).

Since March, Smith has led NACAC’s response to the public and media outcry over the 2019 Varsity Blues college bribery scandal. She has elevated the position of NACAC as a trusted source and used the opportunity to shed light on difficult underlying issues in college admission such as the role of wealth and privilege, the practice of choosing colleges based on status and brand rather than best fit for students, and fairness and equity in accessing higher education.

For additional milestones in Smith’s tenure at NACAC as well as biographical information, visit


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the association's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

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