The college admission landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and David A. Hawkins, who joined NACAC in 2000, has been a key leader for the association in this time of disruption and growth. Now he serves as NACAC’s inaugural chief education and policy officer.
Hawkins has been directing various NACAC programs and departments for two decades, but his latest role brings a higher-level focus to the association’s efforts. “[It] involves setting an educational agenda for the organization, expanding our advocacy agenda, and continuing and evolving the research we’ve done over the years, including taking on a new facet of work—cultivating relationships with foundations to support NACAC’s mission and new initiatives,” said Hawkins. Additionally, he will guide efforts to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are interwoven in both the internal and external activities of the association.
Hawkins has played a key role in setting NACAC’s strategic direction, which involved hearing and representing the collective voice of NACAC, he said. Beyond continuing to be a proponent of ethical behavior and good practice in college admission, NACAC is looking to help transform US higher education at large. The association aims to address some of the more significant challenges that higher education is facing today—and he has and will continue to play a major part in that effort.
“David is well-poised to take on this exciting new work,” NACAC CEO Angel B. Pérez said. “He has served NACAC in various roles with distinction for 20 years. His passion for our members and his deep knowledge of government, policy, research, and advocacy uniquely position him to thrive in this important new role.”
NACAC’s Roadmap for Change, which Hawkins helped produce, focused on answering the question, “What is ailing higher education and what do we do about it as an association?” The answer is complex, but he said there’s one overarching issue that stands in the way of progress. “One of the big problems we’re facing is equity and access. Our educational system is inequitable at every level and it’s something that higher education by itself can’t resolve—but we can certainly shine a light on what we see when students arrive at our doorstep. Right off the bat, we have to fix inequities in the K-12 system,” he said.
Equitable funding for higher education is key to this effort. “K-12 education is something everyone should have access to that must be supported by public investment. That same investment should be made in public higher education—if a student wants to go to college, they should be able to do so for free. That’s a long-term goal, but to begin we have to rethink the way we fund public higher education,” he said.
Hawkins said once we have this kind of breakthrough, many of the challenges NACAC members and their students face will start to ease. “Once we start adopting that vision, some of the other things, like access to postsecondary advising, school counselors, and college advisors, and equitable access to college preparatory curriculum, will start to fall in line because we have addressed all of the supports needed to get there,” he said.
These kinds of changes don’t happen overnight, but Hawkins wants to make sure NACAC is poised to lead the way. He will oversee NACAC’s foray into fundraising on a larger scale which will help the association become a more influential voice in the higher education sector. Hawkins, who was instrumental in NACAC recently receiving its largest-ever grant from the Lumina Foundation, said such foundation support will get NACAC there. “We’ll convene a thought leadership group and really break down the admission and financial aid processes with the sole focus of providing equitable outcomes along the race and ethnicity divide,” he said.
Hawkins’s other priorities include making NACAC a more effective learning organization, with an emphasis on ethics and redefining advocacy. “We want to help solve problems and challenges our members face and offer educational options to help them solve real-world problems—because unethical practice can reinforce inequities and harm the profession,” he said. He also wants members to rethink what advocacy means, explaining that most people think of advocacy as solely government relations activities. “We want to expand our notion of advocacy to include championing the profession itself, helping the public and the media understand what we do, which also helps us grow the profession,” he explained.
Hawkins is excited about his new role and credits Angel B. Pérez, NACAC’s new CEO, with helping to move NACAC into the next era of its development. “Angel has brought a visible commitment to advocacy and to being an outward-facing CEO. That has already started to change the way NACAC interacts with the world and with members. He is committed to being their voice and being responsive to their needs, which was illustrated by the creation of the new chief experience officer position focusing on members,” said Hawkins.
Get to Know David
What is your favorite part of association work?
I love my relationship with the members. That’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve experienced NACAC.
You’re the parent of a college junior and a rising high school senior. How has your work at NACAC informed your family’s decision-making during the college admission process?
I’ve described myself as the luckiest parent in America, because I’ve had 20, almost 21 years now, of working with the preeminent experts in college admission counseling. Just listening to the members at NACAC has allowed me to let my kids take the wheel—to let them drive the process. It helped me pierce the veil of college admission as the public sees it. I wish everybody had access to that.
What was the college admission process like for you?
My school counselor told me that I shouldn’t waste my application fee on the college that I eventually got accepted to and got two degrees from because my SAT score was “too low.” I largely went through the process by myself because only one of my parents went to college—a military college. I ended up attending a college I had never even visited until about a month before I was supposed to show up on campus. It wasn’t great, but I’ve learned from NACAC members how it should have gone and truly appreciate their work. I wish I could have had a little bit of that support. I was still unsure even on the road to my freshman year. Read the end of the story in the NACAC Journal!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’ve competed in Super Smash Bros. video game competitions around the country.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Reading, science fiction (either reading or watching), playing video games, and bodyboarding.
If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise.
What five words would you use to describe yourself?
Compassionate, curious, committed, studious, and determined.