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President’s Column: Charged with Changing the Future of Access to Higher Education

By Jayne Caflin Fonash, NACAC President

The following is adapted from NACAC President Jayne Caflin Fonash’s first speech to the membership during the 2019 National Conference.

The people we love are the foundation of all else. I was the first person in my family to go to college. My parents provided me with countless opportunities and showed me how to open doors, just as we do every day for our students. I have a wonderful family; my husband and I have been blessed with two wonderful children. We were able to raise them in the college-going culture to which we aspire for all our students, and I hope that the same will be true for my grandsons.

But like our association, this has been a year of change for me. After 24 years as a public high school counselor, I have transitioned into the role of an independent college counselor finding new and collaborative ways to support the needs of high school students and their families. Even amid a season of change, I remain committed to the work that motivated my first choices in this profession and my first professional position in an urban setting populated by under-represented students and their families.

Now we need to address the changes buffeting our organization, the challenges they pose to the work we all do, and most importantly the opportunities they present. At the 2019 National Conference, we took stock of a year that has both shaken and inspired our profession. We made decisions that we never imagined in the interest of preserving our voices, the integrity of NACAC, and the role this organization has played as the ethical compass for our profession for 80 years.

Moving forward, I want to provide you with some words that I hope you will find reassuring, and perhaps even a source of comfort: We still control our future and the future of our profession. We control the future of NACAC.

We will select a new Chief Executive Officer this academic year, building on the foundation of nearly three decades of leadership under Joyce Smith. We were intentional in selecting members of the CEO Search Committee, as well as in our selection of Russell Reynolds Associates to support this effort. We continue in the early stages of our search as we seek and receive your feedback on the leadership skills we need in our next CEO.

We will continue to breathe new life into our governance structure. When the call for Committee Service is announced next spring, you will see differences in the composition and mission of our committee structure, allowing more members to participate in the work of NACAC. We will meet with the leadership of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) to focus on what unites us as professionals. We will build our membership on the strength of our newly approved membership model. And we will continue to ensure that NACAC remains on firm financial footing, one that makes our work possible.

Our commitment to protecting students throughout their transition to college will remain a signature objective of NACAC, but there must be changes in how we make it happen.

By now you all have learned that in response to a Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust investigation that has gone on for nearly two years, the Board of Directors believes that the best course of action to resolve this matter is to enter into a consent decree. Between staff time and legal fees, the cost of this effort is approaching a seven-figure number. None of us expected to be taking on a review of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP) so soon after its passage two years ago – and in response to a series of pointed questions from the federal government no less. But that is where we are. And in response, our Admission Practices Committee will evolve into a group tasked with educating our profession and a range of external audiences about ethical practice, rather than playing an enforcement role, as has long been the case.

But more than this, I want you to see that we have a pivotal opportunity to lead the effort to change and strengthen the future of our profession. Whether by choice or destiny, those of us in this membership are the ones who will change the future of access to higher education. During the next year, I will lead the effort to answer this question: What does the future of accessible, equitable, ethical post-secondary enrollment and retention look like, and how will we change to make it happen?

We are poised here to question accepted realities, to seek solutions that may well be found outside the usual compass, and the opportunity to do things that we could not have done before.

Whether by choice or destiny, you and I will change the future of access to higher education. What will your role be as an advocate for the access to higher education that will enable our students to change the world? What are the questions you will pose and prioritize during the coming year?

NACAC began to tackle these questions at our post-conference Board meeting when I established a special year-long, results-driven, future-focused Ad Hoc Committee on Leadership in College Admission, which will immediately commence work. We will look with a new lens at the internal work of NACAC and the role of NACAC as the leader in our profession. This Ad Hoc group will provide a preliminary report to the Board of Directors next spring with their recommendations for the big ideas and themes to pursue in greater detail. Their results may take the shape of white papers, webinars, or podcasts. Whatever the delivery method, these results will inform our membership and lead the way for the future of professional practice in college admission.

So, what’s next in these conversations?

For those of us in counseling offices, the practice of how we inform, prepare, and advise students about postsecondary opportunities must continue to change and expand. I know from experience that we must be more mindful of the physical, emotional, and financial stress these students and their families experience every day. We must refine our practice of preparing students for higher education, counseling them about their best fit academically, socially, and economically.

For those of us in admission offices, the practice of how we reach out to students, how we message information to our students, how we decide whom to admit, and how we build a class, must continue to change. Balancing the budget and diversifying the student body should not be mutually exclusive.

Many of us serve students who have surpassed the limitations that others have imposed upon them. I am not in the business of constraining the dreams and aspirations of students, and neither are you. We should admire these students for their dogged determination and success, but we must eliminate the barriers strewn across the paths of those who follow. We must fight for those who don’t have fit, and we must do this immediately. Period.

Many of us serve students whose preparation for higher education will always be far less than their classmates in other school districts with greater wealth. I recognize the inequity of public K-12 education, and the lifelong impact it has on our students. Where you live and the limitations of the tax revenue of your community should not be a significant or determining factor in the K-12 education you receive. I will begin a conversation among our fellow educators about this shortfall in our education funding with a goal of raising awareness and posing solutions.

Again, whether by choice or destiny, you and I will change the future of access to higher education. There are times when we are thousands of institutions and members who work with millions of students around the world. There are times when we are 23 affiliates. There are times when we are an Assembly of 213 members and an Affiliate Presidents’ Council of 69 members. There are times when we are 32 SIGs. There are times when we are the 14 members of the Board of Directors who are charged with representing NACAC. But this is a time for all of us who sit around the admission table to have vigorous, difficult conversations with each other in the spirit of access to higher education.

As we tackle the challenges of the year ahead, we will be one organization, whose moral compass will clear a path to a new NACAC repurposed to continue provide the leadership in an enduring future of accessible, equitable, and affordable postsecondary education.

I am honored to lead this effort. This is exactly where I want to be, immersed with all of you in the energy and the optimism that each of us bring to work every day, in support of the objectives of higher education access, inclusivity, equity, and affordability. But I can’t do this without each one of you contributing to the success of the coming year. This work will not be easy, but my friends will tell you that I am not afraid to swim upstream.

Take this journey with me, embrace our future, and look forward to the accomplishments we will celebrate next year in Minneapolis.

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