Rearranging deck chairs

NACAC always ends up depressing me. The National Association for College Admission Counseling seems to want to be everything to everyone and never seems to want to get into serious discussions. We end up talking about trivialities when I think we need to address larger issues in a large format. Issues of access, the predominance of testing, the commercialization of admission culture, the effect that college actions have on secondary (and even primary) schooling–all these things seem not to matter except to the lunatic fringe like me.

I would love to hear that high school counselors finally tell colleges to take a hike when they try to recruit students in their junior years. I wish we could stand together somehow and make that happen and have colleges actually pay attention. I think the power imbalance is too great now: Colleges can really do what they want and counselors can only rail helplessly. The illusion of “collegiality” still reigns but if Harvard wants single choice early action, it gets it (and “thanks” NACAC for “allowing” it to stay in the organization.) I worry that high school counselors really aren’t seeing big picture things, or, perhaps more correctly, we’re not banding together enough to make a noise loud enough to make a difference.

Part of me thinks that NACAC needs to split: colleges one way, high school counselors the other. I feel like I have to defend my kids from collegiate predation more than I need to match them up with colleges. Now, there are many people I admire on the college side of things; I used to be one of them myself. But pressures are such that institutional needs seem to be outweighing respect for school culture. The rush to become more “national,” the drive to rise in the rankings, etc., all work against students and high schools. And I’ve already talked about testing…It corrupts and distorts education but colleges just see it as it works in their short-term interest.

There’s too much empty-headedness at NACAC. We make big pronouncements about small things and refuse to take big stands on big things. Who are we, really? Shouldn’t we speak out more substantively for social justice? We talk about access but are we putting pressure on colleges to provide it, or high schools to get better at educating kids who can do the work? (Which means putting pressure on legislatures, etc.

I think many colleges have abdicated their roles as public servants by adopting recruitment and enrollment methods that “process” students instead of really “accept” them. They use testing numbers as crutches; they waitlist hundreds of students so they can get their yield rates up; they don’t accept top kids because they assume they won’t come, thereby lowering their yield rates. It’s a jungle out there and NACAC certainly isn’t any good at taming it.

Many people of good will and a faith in human potential work in admission on both sides of the fence; I know we can do better than what we are doing now but we have to think more about ourselves as public servants, not simply as salespeople for our schools. We have to think of ourselves as part of a continuum, not as a single node at a certain point in time. I think this can be done but I’m not sure we have the will to do it.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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