SIG Focus: Independent Educational Consultants

From the October 20, 2016 NACAC Bulletin:


Co-Leaders of the Independent Educational Consultants Special Interest Group:
Joan Koven, Academic Access (PA)
William Shain, William M. Shain Consulting (MN)

NACAC Special Interest Groups (SIGs) nurture the growing diversity in our association by providing “micro” communities where members can network and add value to their membership experience. These smaller subsets of members are formed for the purpose of knowledge sharing and discussion among members with similar interests whether they are specific subjects, issues or type of institution, or students they serve.

In April, the Independent Educational Consultants SIG solicited feedback from members of our community to help identify new questions and concerns arising in our profession. We gave respondents three prompts: What issues are bearing down on you? What professional challenges are you facing now? How do you think NACAC could help address those challenges? The answers offer a useful illustration of college advising at the moment.

The Changing Landscape of Higher Learning  

In recent years, the landscape of professional relations has turned increasingly digital, presenting unique challenges for IECs. Many reported difficulty in starting dialogues with certain colleges or obtaining the same information granted to school-based counselors. College admission websites often don’t have a visitors’ section for IECs, and may even exclude them from campus visit programs. In general, IECs expressed a desire for greater access to digital resources and a richer network of support from their colleagues on the college side.

Another source of distress among IECs is the changing landscape of academia itself. The excessive use of part-time or adjunct faculty and the precarious future of lower-tier institutions pose real difficulties for IECs in recommending institutions to their students.

Lack of Transparency in Applications and Admission

IECS are also concerned about the unpredictability and lack of transparency that has come to dominate the application process. Admission to the 15 or so most competitive schools has become a crap shoot—one that has gotten only more difficult to navigate given new variables like the creation of the Coalition Application, which was developed without the consultation of applicants or their advisors. The attention given to college rankings, inaccurate admission statistics, and the general difficulty of accessing information all combine to make the application process more opaque.

And, financial aid protocols at individual colleges are no clearer, with the exception of the small number of institutions which are both need-blind and meet designated need fully.  Families and counselors assisting them in the college process are, with the exception of a very small number of schools, left in the dark concerning whether a school is need-blind but “gaps” with financial aid awards, need-aware in its admission process but meets need fully for admitted students, or both need-aware in its admission process and “gapping” financial aid awards.

Furthermore, the existence of merit-based aid has yielded complications, as the different protocols of merit- and need-based aid make it hard to sort out options for families.

How Can NACAC Help? 

NACAC could meet many of IECs’ needs by partnering with IECA and HECA to publicize the existence of trained and ethical IECs and by including IECs in all the opportunities offered to school counselors. At the moment, IECs are excluded from regional forums conducted by NACAC and are often ignored at events, all while paying the highest dues of any members. IECs who are NACAC members cannot currently be used as a reference by an IEC seeking membership, even though NACAC solicits the recruitment of new members in contacts with IECs.

NACAC also should devote its resources to fighting college ranking systems, getting colleges to scale back unsolicited solicitation of students, and encouraging colleges to offer more than one application form to save students from having to complete multiple application versions of their college list, as well as advocating for transparency in the admission and financial aid protocols at colleges and universities.

If you would like to connect with the Independent Educational Consultants SIG for further conversation and network, join the SIG’s group on the NACAC Exchange.

Editor’s Note:
NACAC Responds
  • NACAC is pleased to report we have on-going discussions with the leadership of IECA and HECA.
  • NACAC’s Board of Directors approved the use of IECA and HECA membership as an important criteria for independent educational consultants seeking NACAC membership.
  • On the matter of excluding IECs from regional forum events, staff reports that school districts often cover the costs for school counselors to participate in NACAC’s Essentials programs so registration is often coordinated through the district office. We are not aware that any IECs were prohibited from attending.
  • On the issue of dues, the NACAC Board of Directors has announced that it will begin a serious review of all membership categories, including the dues structure. Although NACAC has over 100 codes for membership, the primary categories and related dues are postsecondary institutions at $325 annually; high school, at $185 annually; and Community-based Organizations at $365 annually. IEC membership is $245 annually.
  • NACAC has added a new model for regional programs around the use of the Fundamentals textbook. A new event is being planned in Washington, DC, and IECs are welcomed to attend.