SIG Focus: Regional Admission Counselors

From the February 24, 2016 NACAC Bulletin:

Co-Leaders of the Regional Admission Counselors Special Interest Group:
Ed Devine, Lafayette College (PA), based in CA
Carin Smith, Lawrence University (WI), based in IL

​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.

It is hard to tell when the idea of regionally-based counselors was introduced into the enrollment management world.  Maybe it was in the 1970s, but they definitely in the ’80s.  Whenever and wherever it was that those first regionally-based counselors started calling home (and office) a place far from campus, those trailblazers have helped open a whole new world of enrollment management and a new professional track.

For several years now, regional admission counselors (known as Regionals) would meet in their regions or at Affiliate ACAC Conferences, and subsequently a NACAC SIG was developed.  At the 2006 Pittsburgh NACAC National Conference, Regionals began to expand their efforts to form a national awareness and presence.  In 2012, a group of Regionals organized an inaugural, national meeting with approximately 40 in attendance. From this, a national organization was founded (NARAC) and in 2015 NARAC held its third annual meeting with nearly 150 in attendance.

It is estimated, based on the group’s most recent national survey, that there are approximately 800 Regionals working in the United States. To date, there are 16 affiliate regional groups operating throughout the country. They vary in size from under 20 members, to groups that are comprised of 150 members. Definitions of a regional admission counselor vary in different parts of the country (for example, some affiliate groups only consider an officer to be “regional” if they represent a school outside the state in which the affiliate operates) but in general, we are aware that many campuses are now employing remotely-based admission counselors. The Regional Admission Counselors SIG has assembled to help define the pros, cons, challenges, and opportunities of working with a regional model.

Some colleges employ one counselor who resides away from campus (12 percent of the Regionals surveyed were the only one employed by their institution), others may have more than 30 regionally-based colleagues (10 percent of the schools have 10 or more Regionals) spread throughout the country.  Survey data tells us the average number of Regionals employed by schools is 4.6.  All acknowledged Regionals are working for just one institution, 90 percent are full-time admission employees, and 80 percent currently work on 12 month contracts.

The last 10 years have seen an explosion in the number of regionals in the field of college admission (83 percent of colleges/universities with Regionals have had them for less than 10 years).  With the advent of online reading, more and more Regionals are full-functioning admission counselors with more than 60 percent of responding counselors indicating that they review full application caseloads. Approximately 20 percent of those surveyed hold supervisory roles within their office.

One statistic of particular note from the 2015 survey indicated that 49 percent of the Regional Counselors serve in some official capacity with NACAC or their regional ACAC.

The Regional Admission Counselors SIG and formation of regional and national groups has provided tremendous support and camaraderie to individuals who were often working alone and looking for connection. The regional model seems to have a tremendous impact on colleges and universities in regards to meeting enrollment goals.  Some schools have seen moderate growth in a new territory (30 percent increase in enrollment) others tremendous impact (200 percent increase in enrollment.)  The regional groups often help to provide “speed-learning” to new Regionals entering a territory, sharing valuable insight into effective recruitment in the new region and almost instant acceptance and awareness within the new region.  The amount of professional development provided by the regional groups is invaluable and one of the primary missions of the national regional agenda.

Many admission counselors have found a new lease on their career. The average years of experience in admission for Regionals is five years (whereas our on-campus counterparts have a more typical “shelf-life” of less than three years), while 31 percent have been in the profession for more than 10 years.  The regional groups provide tremendous support, training, and mentorship for this new brand of admission counselor, while providing the seasoned counselor an opportunity to mentor.

Of greatest importance, and perhaps a by-product of the Regional movement, is the insertion of new energy and personnel into the world of college access in different parts of the country. As James Cotter, director of admission at Michigan State, and Matt Hyde, dean of admission at Lafayette College (PA), shared in their addresses to the 2015 gathering of Regionals, our institutions are not just recruiting students from a distant region, we are giving back to that region by having professionals who can integrate themselves into the regions’ college access initiatives. Distant colleges/universities quickly can become part of the discussion locally in regards to college access. Regionals provide an array of new options for students and families, and an army of colleagues to help support the work of high school, community college, CBO, and independent counselors in a Regionals’ “home-office” away from campus.

To connect with other Regionals, consider joining the Regional Admission Counselors SIG Exchange Group.