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NACAC Chief Executive Officer’s State of the Association Report – 2019

By Joyce E. Smith

I contemplated whether to only write about the positive side of the association’s work in this column for the new year, but, let’s face it, 2018 was a tough year for NACAC. Moving into 2019, we continue to face daunting challenges as well as opportunities. As I started to write this column with the woe is me theme, suddenly large portions of the federal government shut down when the President and Congress could not agree on a budget.

Since then, more than 800,000 federal employees -- so-called nonessentials (a degrading term) -- around the country have been out of work and are not getting their well-deserved compensation – or are compelled to work without pay. These workers are unable to meet expenses and, for the first time perhaps, need assistance to keep a roof over the heads, clothing on their backs, food on the table, and their bills paid. The stories are heart-wrenching no matter what your political beliefs may be.

I came to realize I needed to get over my funk and have come to understand that we are among those truly blessed. We have positions offering us meaningful work that we believe in, and we are privileged to serve students and families as they consider their options beyond secondary school.  We go to work each day with the confidence that our work is indeed essential

But the NACAC news at the close of 2018 is that revenues were down for membership, the national conference, and National College Fairs -- our three primary revenue-generating areas. NACAC endured substantial legal expenses for the Department of Justice investigation, as our insurance company initially denied the obligation to cover such costs. Additionally, the stock market fluctuations resulted in a serious hit to our investments. We’re confident in the long-term health of our investment approach and are hoping for a better 2019. In the meantime, the Board of Directors and the staff continue to work together to reduce expenses in our operations, implementing belt-tightening protocols and exploring new revenue sources.

After a year of investigation and negotiation, the DOJ antitrust inquiry into the association’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice continues. Through regular communications with legal counsel, we have gained a stronger awareness of what the DOJ sees as important in this antitrust debate. Until the federal government’s announced closure, we were on a path for presenting a possible resolution to Assembly delegates to consider in early 2019. The Board of Directors, the Admission Practices Committee, and staff have reviewed options to resolve the investigation with DOJ, but as of this writing, we must wait for the opening of the government and the approval of our recommended language changes by senior DOJ staffers. Please be assured that NACAC has been very vocal in defense of our core values, ethical principles, and professional practices, but we must end this inquiry, preferably not through litigation. 

After working for two years on a new membership model, it was disappointing to have such confusion at the 2018 Annual Membership Meeting that the board had to withdraw the bylaw change that would have enabled a much-needed membership model change. Proposed changes in our membership model failed to win over some members with legitimate concerns, but we have listened about the model’s shortcomings and are preparing a revised and improved version for consideration.  You will have a chance to learn more about and comment on the newly revised model in the months ahead.

The Board of Directors also set a strategic priority focused on rethinking our governance structure through the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Restructuring Governance. This review is considering ways to have stronger and more inclusive engagement of members when governance meetings are conducted at the national conference, as well as to put forth ideas about how voting on the leadership and association policies could be better managed. Information will be shared through the year as we seek member input.

The association is focused on delivering a quality national conference in Louisville, Kentucky, in September. We have an ambitious schedule of STEM, Performing and Visual Arts, and regular National College Fairs. We will be offering an Advocacy Meeting in early March for those who wish to meet with their elected representatives on the Hill and provide regular briefings on Washington policy considerations and events. We remain committed to supporting school counselors through the Imagine Fund and encourage donors to give in support of this effort. Our research informs the education community of changes in our work and students behaviors. We are represented on the international front and have an effort underway to address international testing problems. We have dedicated time and resources to refocusing on our membership model while also dedicating great attention to the association’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices and shaping it for the future.

As you can see, there are several efforts now underway that will make NACAC stronger, more inclusive, nimbler, and more responsive to member needs. We 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, to receive the latest and best research and information about the higher education environment, and to get news updates about our own careers, students, financial aid, and more. Most of all, we are grateful for the chance to do this essential work.

The year 2019 has begun with challenges for sure, but I believe we are up to the test and am thankful for the opportunity to serve.

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