FAFSA position: media beportrayal, one-sided advocacy and windmill fighting #emchat #admissions #nacac #FAFSA

It’s been about two weeks since the Department of Education announced that colleges would no longer be able to see other colleges to which a student had sent the FAFSA. This change will take place with the introduction of the 2016-17 FAFSA. Many in the college admissions world celebrated, slapped high-fives and declared, “It’s about time.” These victory dances are a bit silly and actually may prove to be a bit reckless.

I believe DoE’s decision offers a glimpse into some of the things that are going sideways in the profession I’ve enjoyed for nearly 25 years.

I may be an outlier, but I’ve found a college’s FAFSA position to be a very effective tool for doing my job and serving students. Knowing my college’s apparent rank in order on a student’s FAFSA is particularly useful for:

  • Predicting enrollment
  • Projecting yield patterns
  • Verifying direct competition (using the FAFSA overlap alongside another resource that verifies enrollment to triangulate patterns)
  • Prioritizing outreach to students and customizing communication

I believe most practitioners who have found FAFSA position to be of value have used this information in the same way I have—ethically, responsibly and to improve communication with students.

So, after the disclosure above, let me tell you what went sideways in relation to this particular issue.

DoE’s action on this issue was influenced by some things that are just wrong:

Media portrayal—The reporting about FAFSA position has been awful. It has included sensationalized headlines that served as the proverbial dog whistle for those looking for conspiracies in the college admissions work. Here are a couple headlines that shaped the coverage of this issue.

Be careful what you share on the FAFSA

Colleges use FAFSA to reject applicants

Read the articles, because the content does not support the headlines. These articles relied on coulds, mights and mays, rather than identifying a college or colleges that misuse FAFSA information. (You may notice I am mentioned in both articles; I’ve tried to be a part of this conversation.) Media portrayal on complex issues like this should be more exact. How could one not react negatively to these headlines?

One-sided advocacy—NACAC, which last time I checked was a membership organization, completely let down a segment of its membership on this issue. In my view, NACAC never sought a real conversation about FAFSA position and its use among its diverse membership. Instead, NACAC allowed a very vocal and outspoken segment of its membership to define the organization’s, and therefore the members’, position on this matter. My interests, and those of other members like me, were essentially ignored. Such a sad development has become predictable. NACAC must be an advocate for all members, not just some—and allow adequate time for the organization to hear from everyone and develop a position.

Fighting windmills—Like Don Quixote, many of those most critical of FAFSA position and admissions saw dragons where none exist. They conflated use of FAFSA position to predict enrollment with FAFSA position to make admissions decisions. Let me be clear…they made that up! The windmill fighters on this particular issue consistently applied “what ifs” or, lacking evidence, leapt to conclusions.

Celebrators of DoE’s decision seem to have some special knowledge of inappropriate use of FAFSA position that they’ve never shared with an Admissions Practices committee. I find this particularly ironic. They could have reported misuse to an AP Committee, but they didn’t.And, I am not aware of a single instance of a regional or the national Admissions Practices committee hearing a complaint about misuse of FAFSA position and non-compliance with the Statement of Principles and Good Practices.

This is not the first time well-intentioned people have mistaken windmills for dragons, and it won’t be the last. But, we can do better. In times past we would have worked as colleagues to gain a better understanding of this practice before declaring one side as evil and unethical.

I hope for better days ahead.

DoE has spoken, colleges will adapt and this will be a blip. But there will be consequences to this decision that some won’t like. I would not be surprised to see the following things happen in the coming years:

  • More moderately and highly selective colleges begin requiring the CSS Profile because it provides overlap data
  • More colleges and universities introduce an institutional financial aid form, to determine who is most interested and will take the time to perform an extra step
  • More colleges and universities of all ranges of selectivity will introduce binding Early Decision admissions plans since an ED application is the ultimate signal of interest and intent to enroll
  • More colleges and universities will introduce much earlier deadlines for financial aid applications to see who is listening and paying attention
  • Some colleges will introduce “priority financial aid” with strings attached to work with those who are most interested

It will be interesting to watch what happens.

What do you think about all of this?

Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

Help me find a reporter to ask candidates the real questions about “free” and “Debt-free” college #emchat #admissions #highered

I am reading with great interest the various proposals for “free college” or “debt-free college” offered by some candidates running for president. The proposals seem grandiose and impractical to me, but maybe I am missing something.

Before anyone gets too excited about these plans, maybe we should begin asking all candidates the following questions.

  • What is the annual amount of the Federal Pell Grant?
  • What is the maximum Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for a student that qualifies for the Federal Pell Grant?
  • When was the last time the Federal Pell Grant was increased?

I think we should try to determine if any of these candidates actually know anything about needy families, federal financial aid and the challenges ahead.

I am betting that these candidates have pretty limited first-hand knowledge about needy students and federal financial aid. And, I think they know even less about higher ed. and higher ed. financing, etc.

I think they are focused on what polls well and what sounds good to the voters they’ve targeted. I don’t think any of their vaguely described plans will see the light of day.

I might be wrong, but I long for a single, dogged reporter to ask these questions until they get answers from the candidates themselves. I am not interested in hearing from policy hacks, I want to hear from the candidates.

So, please help me find a reporter who will ask these questions until they get an answer.

I’ve thought about trolling a couple of campaigns in my bow-tie and blazer with a sandwich board with the questions, but my handwriting is pretty bad and I am not sure I’d ever get called on.

But, I do promise that if I see any of the candidates while they are campaigning in Davenport, I am going to ask.

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

The #NACAC listserve content calendar for 2015-16 #emchat #admissions #nacac

Over the course of the years I’ve been an observer of the NACAC listserve, but I don’t post or respond to it. However, I have taken note about some pretty common and predictable topics that are discussed there each and ever year. I thought it might be useful to publish a content calendar in advance to help guide everyone for the next year.

So, here it goes. These are the topics and the general timeframes that are allowed next year. I am proposing that NACAC preemptively post each one of these topics for one week in each months identified below.

July                 Colleges are forcing students to apply way too early…it’s outrageous.

August            I wonder if the Common Application will suck this year?

September      I hate fast applications (a.k.a. crap applications) and they should be a violation of the SPGP for some reason.

October          The College Board, Hobsons and the Common Application are in collusion to make our lives miserable on both                         the college and high school side and profit from everything they do.

November       Please extend application deadlines for students who need the extensions.

December       Naviance is not working today and I can’t get anything done…it’s outrageous.

January          “Scott Anderson, can you answer this question about the Common Application?”

February         Demonstrated interest is wrong, hurts students and should violate the SPGP.

March             Wait lists are way too long…it’s outrageous.

April                My absolute best student was shut out and now needs a home. Who is still accepting application?

Doesn’t anyone care about the SPGP?

May                 Here’s the NACAC Space Availability Survey (these colleges didn’t do very well this year).

June                This is a great profession and colleagues on both sides of the desk are incredibly helpful.

It would also be useful for NACAC to provide the following reminders periodically:

  • The listserve should not be used to promote ANYTHING, EVER.
  • Don’t forget to register for the annual NACAC Conference
  • Please list your favorite resources for xxxxxxx.

Are there any predictable topics I missed?

Kent Barnds (a.k.a. @bowtieadmission)

Persuasion or counseling: What is it we really do? And what do we get paid to do? #admissions #emchat

In my profession, which is peopled with admissions professionals and secondary school partners, we advise students on the college search and selection process. It is an important profession and requires an honest partnership between college representatives and those advising students in high schools. It also is a profession on which many rely—students, parents, school boards, communities, college faculty and administrators, society, etc.

Let’s put it this way: there are a lot of stakeholders and a great deal of interest in how the job is done and how the partnerships work.

I’ve sensed some tension lately that’s worth discussing.

I’ve noticed that when one wishes to make a principled argument against the “sales culture” that many believe now permeates college admission, there often is a reference to our job as “counselors.” These reminders frequently are related to some incident, a perceived violation of NACAC’s Statement of Principles and Good Practices (SPGP), or a practice that someone feels is objectionable

The implication in these reminders is that in order to be student-focused we must be as dispassionate and objective in what we do and say, just as a counselor might be perceived to be.

I understand why some in the profession want to remind us that we are counselors as opposed to salespeople, but are we really counselors, in the sense that we are involved in objective counseling? Is that really what we do and get paid to do? Is that what our diverse set of stakeholders really want us to do?

What we do and what is expected of us looks and feels a lot more like persuasion and advocacy than it does counseling. I am no expert on the difference, but I know there is one other than semantic.

I think admissions professionals are expected (by our stakeholders) and paid (by our employers) to persuade students. Here are a couple of examples:

  • As a member of the board of trustees at an independent school, I’ve witnessed conversations among board member about how the college counselors should work with students to expand the list of schools to which they apply. The objective is to include schools of all kinds (large public flagship universities, small private colleges, elite schools and schools in the “back yard,” and, of course, “more of the Ivies”). Since students and families are not thinking along the same lines about the possibilities, this requires persuasion on the part of the college counselor.
  • On questions of access and choice, countless admissions officers and guidance counselors have advised students, who may not have all of the facts, to explore colleges that are perceived too expensive only to find out that they can be affordable. This requires persuasion.
  • When a student registers for a light senior year, the subsequent conversation about rigor (and what colleges will think) is a conversation that revolves around persuasion.

Now, I know that one could argue that the so-called persuasion described above is actually counseling. I see it otherwise.

I think we are expected to help, which for 17- and 18-year-olds requires answering questions directly, advising, influencing behavior, and bringing our passion to the work we do. We are expected to persuade. The questions we ask students to answer are crafted to persuade. Our statements, storytelling and the information we share are designed to persuade. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

We help and lead those we influence, rather than direct and advise how to proceed down a path. We are leaders and persuaders, rather than appointers or delegators.

As persuaders we say, “Join us and believe.” We do not say, “Take my advice and go.”

In my view, those who like to invoke the counseling responsibility are intentionally sending a message that those who are passionate and work actively to persuade students are icky salespeople who have no place in college admissions work. Sadly, the implication, intentional or not—particularly to those who are less experienced—is that in order to be ethical and professional, one must be dispassionate and respond with “what do you think” in order to be a counselor. I reject this notion and believe that our stakeholders expect us to be passionate persuaders. And, if we are completely honest about this, those admissions officers and college counselors who are perceived to be most successful are those who reinforce their passions with an abundance of persuasion. That’s what moves people to action.

I also believe it is entirely possible to be a passionate persuader and an ethical member of this profession.

What do you think about the differences I’ve identified between persuasion and counseling?

Have I persuaded you that you, too, are in the business of persuasion?

Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

Forget about the 1%. How about the rest of us? We are the 99% of college admissions. #emchat #admissions

In the coming days there will be considerable focus in the media and college counseling community on the super-duper selective colleges and universities of this county. You know, the 1%. The places that have selectivity rates in the teens and endowments in the multi-millions or billions will get lots of attention.

We will see list of selectivity rates. We will hear about outrageously long wait lists. We will hear anecdotes about someone who should have received an offer of admissions for a particular college. And, all of this will result in the following:

  • There will be lots of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth about the level of selectivity.
  • There will bloviating about loss of access and choice.
  • There will be wailing and lamenting abound.
  • Listservs will explode.
  • Bloggers will lambaste.
  • Reporters will focus on the national, rather than the local.

It will be the silly season, as it always is when the super selective colleges announce their decisions (and everyone else gets wind). The great wait will be over.

Who cares?

Too many, in my view.

College admissions should not simply be about getting in. But, the coming days will define the profession I love in exactly those terms. It will be all about who did and who did not get into the super selective colleges and universities.

I seem to recall a huge movement across the country the wanted everyone to focus on the 99%. Most of us in college admissions and most of the students who will be attending college this fall are the 99%.

How about paying a little bit of attention to the 99% this year?

  • Wouldn’t it be great if there were silence about outrageously low selectivity rates?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if the listservs were silent?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if the bloggers focused on the average number offers of admission from which a student can choose this year?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if reporters did what good reporters are supposed to do and localize the story and report on how local colleges are doing with enrolling next year’s class?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if we were all reminded that college admissions is not about the 1% that we will hear about in the coming week?

I am the 99%. I work at a great place that is a part of the 99%. And, I serve amazing students who are also part of the 99%.

Please do your part to celebrate the 99% in the coming days.

W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission

On the college path, more guidance is needed #admissions #emchat

There’s plenty wrong with the college admissions process in the United States, but what troubles me most is the lack of support for high school students about their next steps. The shortage of college and guidance counselors serving students, and the often outrageously high student-to-counselor ratios, are well documented. First Lady Michelle Obama has even addressed the crisis, yet nothing seems to have changed—other than awareness that it really may be a crisis.

Guidance and college counselors are a critical part of the college-going culture, and those I know do a great job with students, parents and colleges. It’s just that there are not enough of them. According to the American School Counselor Association, the average public school counselor manages a load of 471 students.

As a college admissions professional, I am troubled about this shortage because we rely on partnerships with guidance and college counselors who understand what we offer and who know their students.

As an individual who benefited from stretching well beyond my comfort zone when choosing a college, because someone with trusted credentials advised my family and me “to look beyond the usual suspects,” I fear that future students may miss out on the kind of experience my generation had as undergraduates.

As a parent, I am terrified, because I am not at all confident my children will pay any attention to my recommendations, even though I actually know something about this process!

Others have written far more eloquently on this issue and there was an excellent segment on NPR recently, but I might be able to offer some practical ideas for students and families who don’t have access to expert college admission advising.

As in any situation where there is a shortage of service providers, agencies and industries emerge which can provide the needed service. In this circumstance, we’ve witnessed an explosion of independent counselors.

I respect independent counselors and the role they play. Critics will focus on the price these counselors charge, and describe their services as accessible exclusively to the elite, but almost every independent counselor I know does some pro bono work to help students in need. I think the greater challenge is that independent counselors are less likely to be located in areas where the need may be the greatest; this is especially true in rural and other communities where first-generation college-bound students are most prevalent. To find an independent counselor you might visit the website for the Independent Educational Consultants Association.

Other groups that have emerged to fill this void include Community-Based Organizations (CBOs). In most major cities a family can find CBOs that work with students throughout the college search and selection process. These organizations fill an important need in communities and typically rely on a large number of volunteers who give their time and talents to work with students who might not receive expert counseling otherwise. Like independent counselors, CBOs can fulfill an important role, but their capacity is not limitless. While at Augustana College I’ve had the good fortune of working with some exemplary CBOs, like the Evanston Scholars, HighSight and Chicago Scholars programs, and I’ve seen the results of the guidance and support they provide students.

But where can a student or family turn if they have limited school-based sources for college advice, independent counselors are too far away or too expensive, and there are no CBOs in the community? You may not have to look too far.

Here are a couple of ideas on getting expert advice about the college search and selection process.

Admissions offices—Admissions professionals across the country are an excellent source for advice on the college search. Although we are paid to recruit students to the institution at which we are employed, we are expert counselors about navigating the process in general. In fact, senior admissions officers frequently are asked by high schools to provide general programming for students and parents entering the college search. The admissions officers I know pride themselves on working with students to find the right college. Some admissions offices “adopt” high schools to provide college counseling. If your college advising is in short supply, reach out to an admissions officer—I bet they’ll provide you with good advice and proper direction. The office I work in has a proud tradition of providing a number of public service counseling resources.

Online resources—Online college-search resources range from websites that are repositories for information, to sites that enable students to develop a profile they can share with colleges and universities, to message boards that solicit all sorts of college information. These sites can be useful in providing general advice about the college search, too. Some of these sources have accurate, up-to-date information, yet I urge you to be cautious about those that rely on opinions, ratings and message boards; it’s rare that you will get the full story. I recommend Peterson’s, College Data, and the College Board’s Big Future for their straightforward approach and accurate information about colleges and universities across the country.

Virtual college counseling—This is another area emerging from the dearth of in-house college counseling. One particular service, AdmitHub, caught my interest and might prove valuable to students and families that seek answers to specific questions about the college search process. AdmitHub is free for students and parents and it has a network of current admissions and college counseling contributors. (In full disclosure, I admit I am an expert contributor.)

What is interesting to me about AdmitHub is that colleges and universities support the site financially and provide counseling openly to make sure students and parents get the most accurate information possible. There are other free virtual counselors, like College Confidential, Kahn Academy and Chegg, but AdmitHub is the only one that is resourced exclusively by current practitioners in college counseling and college admissions.

Until public policy makers and all communities make college counseling a priority, the recommendations above can help students get some good answers and support. But, let’s not rest until our communities invest in the guidance our students deserve.

Giving thanks for a fulfilling career and the great people with whom I work

During this season of thanks I am giving thanks for a great career and for all those people who (have been) are a part of my work.

First and foremost, I am thankful for a supportive family. I work long hours, take the job home with me too often and spend more time checking in with the office than anyone ever should. But, Jennie and the kids remain supportive of me, and what I love to do. I could not be more thankful for their support.

Throughout my time in higher education, I’ve been surrounded by awesome teammates. The people with whom I’ve worked—whether in admission, financial aid or marketing—have consistently pushed me to get better. They’ve also kept me humble. They’ve stepped up and stepped in whenever needed to make sure the work gets done. Most importantly, they’ve supported me. I am also really, really proud of many of my teammates who have gone on to leadership positions elsewhere. I am thankful (and admire) their success. I could not more thankful for my teammates.

The directors with whom I’ve worked (and work with currently) have been amazing. I am thankful to each for their tolerance of my style, demeanor and occasional crazy idea. I look forward to working with my senior team every day. I am thankful for their great leadership in their respective offices and for their patience and support of me as a supervisor.

My mentors are the best in the world and I am thankful for everything they’ve taught me and inspired me to do. I am grateful for their patience with me and for the time they’ve taken to respond to my silly and often time-consuming questions throughout the years. I give special thanks to my mentors for the role they’ve played in helping me find meaning in my career.

Each one of my bosses; Gordon Bateman, Ted Long and Steve Bahls put more faith in me than I had earned at the time. I am grateful for the opportunities provided, the confidence placed in me and the responsibilities put in front of me through the years.

I am also thankful for those with whom I’ve clashed throughout the years. Those with whom I’ve had tense relationships have made me better and more self-aware. I am grateful to everyone who has told me that I am “full of it.” I have been inspired to do better and to accomplish the task at hand. I am thankful for those colleagues who have forced me to reflect and get better.

Who are you thankful to when it comes to your career? Why not let them know?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission


W. Kent Barnds

W. Kent Barnds

Experienced Higher Education Professional and Complex Problem Solver

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