A New Ethical Compass

By Todd Rinehart, NACAC President

It was 2017, but it seems like decades ago given everything we’ve managed this past year. That’s when I was chair of the committee that ushered in the final version of NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.

The code  a point of pride for the association and a touchstone for members  was replaced last year with the Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission. As we all know, that action was necessitated by the US Department of Justice investigation of NACAC and the resulting consent decree.

The change from code to guide was a seismic one for the association. Our standards of behavior are no longer framed as do’s and don’ts. We no longer have a mandatory rulebook that is monitored and enforced.

What we do have is a compass. And an opportunity.

The compass is the Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission, our gold standard for good practice in the college counseling and admission profession. In the classroom, I’d call this “required” reading, and I encourage all NACAC members to become familiar with the full document. The principles are the foundation for how we serve students and fellow professionals with honesty, integrity, transparency, equity, and respect.

NACAC has always focused on student-centered ethical practice. The question before us now is how to continue this focus without the benefit of explicit rules and enforcement. A recent report put it this way:

“…[this is a] change in direction for NACAC – one that [will] move us beyond a role in which we self-regulate to one in which we must advocate and rely on our core values to represent what is good and noble in higher education admission, while also naming what is wrong and detrimental.”

A step in that direction is the development of markers for our “true north.” Stated simply, we need to set a standard and measure our policies and practices with the question, “Is this good for students?”.

Two weeks ago, the Admission Practices (AP) Committee met with a group of affiliate AP leaders and staff to begin to chart our course for 2021 and beyond. All agreed that practical information and guidance from NACAC would support each of us individually in our daily decision making, strengthen the profession and our institutions, and increase the value of our service to students and families.

Over the coming months, NACAC members and leaders will help inform the creation of these markers. By the fall, our goal is to begin implementing support for members through education program for defining expectations; pathways for resolving professional challenges; and forums for the exchange of information and ideas. In short, we will begin to equip NACAC members with the knowledge and training to discern:

  • Why an ethical framework is important for our profession,
  • How to determine what is in the best interest of students, and
  • What ethical practice means in the real world for secondary school counselors, independent education consultants, college admission professionals, and community-based professionals.

NACAC has a storied history of promoting ethical college admission practices, and our association has always evolved to identify new and different ways to serve students. I know that together we’ll arrive at our ultimate goal  to ensure that our culture and values of ethical practices are far stronger than any individual rules.


Todd Rinehart
NACAC President
University of Denver, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment

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