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.
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
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.
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?
Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission
Years ago during a strategic planning session a friend and colleague of mine stood up in front of a room full of people and declared, “we can’t really afford what we’ve become.” This friend and college was a Ph.D in Finance, had taught for thirty years at the time, and had served both as provost and vice president of finance. His comment stuck with me and I’ve never forgotten the somewhat sick feeling I had when I realized how accurate he was and how difficult the work would be to adjust.
Well, today, the reality of “we cannot afford what we’ve become” is more real than it was 15 years ago when I first heard this phrase.
With the exception of the wealthiest and most prestigious colleges and universities, the vast majority of colleges and universities must face this reality head-on.
And, as an enrollment manage, I know we can’t just grow our way out of this.
Here are a couple of charts to ponder:
See what I mean? We can’t afford what we’ve become. I am sure that there are some who would like to debate this, but the data seems pretty clear to me.
What should we do about this?
Inaction or hoping that things will turn around probably won’t yield very good results.
At some colleges we’ve already seen action. Some have eliminated programs, others have transitioned to adjunct faculty to deliver more and more of the academic program, and, we’ve even seen some colleges close. In most of these cases, there has been considerable gnashing of teeth.
Sadly, that is likely to continue since admitting that we’ve can’t afford what we’ve become hurts and is an uncomfortable admonition. But, let’s also be honest, the reason we can’t afford what we’ve become is directly related to the fact that there are not enough students who can afford what we’ve become. This is a reality.
I think that colleges that come to this realization and take action will be in a much stronger position.
Below are some of my thoughts about how I think some colleges will react. In my view, those that have a clear plan in each area will be the winners, while those who do not have a plan will be featured in the higher ed press.
Cut core costs—Colleges must cut core costs for student. They must develop orderly plans to make meaningful cuts to free up resource to continue to pay employees and deliver services students demand. Some programs (academic and co-curricular) will have to close. Some requirements within general education and perhaps even some majors may need to be reduced. Class sizes will need to increase. Some services currently offered will have to be cut or reduced. Nobody gets excited about this, I know.
But, this is reality for most of us.
Those colleges that will be successful navigating this pain are those, which develop plans transparently and involve all stakeholders in decision-making.
Consolidate—Consolidation may be attractive for some. Merging with a college or set of colleges with a similar profile and mission may enable some reduction in administrative costs. We’ve seen this in a number of public systems already and private colleges may need to do some of this in order to survive. Maybe a centralized admissions and financial aid office? Maybe one registrar? Maybe one German department? Maybe one president? Maybe one Board of Trustees?
While this probably won’t work for everyone, there are some colleges that will need to find a partner in order to survive. We can’t compete against each other indefinitely.
Those colleges with imagination about partnering with like-minder organizations in order to consolidate are likely to thrive during these difficult times.
Outsource—Colleges that have not explored outsourcing services will have to do so. This will painful, but it will be important as college think about cutting core cost and becoming more affordable.
Colleges that have transparent plans about outsourcing will be in a stronger position that those which reject the idea outright.
Clarify mission—Some colleges will have to change or re-focus mission to survive, while others may double-down on an existing mission. These difficult times will force colleges to think more clearly than ever before about mission, because we can’t continue to try to be everything to everybody; that’s what got us into the mess.
We’ve started to see a little bit of this with some college choosing to abandon undergraduate education altogether to focus on graduate education exclusively, while others have rejected adding graduate programs in order to focus on undergraduate education.
Colleges that have a confused mission during these difficult times are destined for infighting about resources in a time of diminishing resources.
I know this is pretty sober, but it’s reality and the sooner we realize it and take action, the better off we will be.
What do you think?
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission
For the next several weeks I plan to focus my blog on the realties we face in contemporary enrollment work and the implications for enrollment leaders #admissions #emchat #highered
I recently led a webcast titled “Enrollment challenges 2015 and beyond: Shifting demographics, decreasing numbers and implications for enrollment management.”
The webcast for Paper Clip Communications was a great chance for me to think critically about the profession of enrollment management and the challenges we face. Over the next several weeks, I will opine on each of the following trends/themes that have me thinking.
I hope to identify the implications for enrollment leaders.
The realities I discussed in the webcast and will write about in the coming weeks include:
- We can’t afford what we’ve become.
- Demographic change will lead to significant changes on many campuses and will bring more focus to strategic enrollment planning.
- Alternative selection criteria are likely to take hold and become the norm.
- The VP for enrollment will continue to be on the “hot seat,” which will result in significant enrollment fluctuations and tremendous “churn” in the profession.
- Career Services and outcomes will be as important as financial aid, location, strength of major, and fit when choosing a college.
- Making the class will not longer be an indicator of success.
- New numbers will become the focus for financial aid.
- There will continue to be price and net-price experimentation, but no new model will emerge.
- Effective strategic enrollment management will take on increased importance.
Some of these realties have been discussed widely (demographics); others have not been explored as thoroughly. I plan to look at the implications of these realities to try to stimulate some discussion. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you and highlighting the implications for our profession, higher ed and for enrollment leadership. I hope you will follow along and perhaps join in the discussion.
Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission
As a chief admissions officer, I am convinced that the strength of career services and the programs a college offers to prepare students for life after college are more important than ever for those responsible for recruitment. Admissions officers must be equipped with the strongest-possible case for their career services, if they are going to be able to persuade increasingly skeptical students and parents.
I am really proud of what we are doing at Augustana College and feel like I am better equipped than ever before to illustrate how we do things better than others. I love our approach for the value it will have to our students and future graduates. And, as an admissions officer, I am thrilled to be able to highlight what we are doing through CORE.
This fall we launched CORE, which is outlined in detail below.
CORE is more than collection of offices and services, which many colleges have. It’s more than an acronym for Careers, Opportunities, Research and Exploration. CORE is a campus-wide re-orientation to the student experience, with a primary focus to ensure students connect experiences, information, knowledge, passions and ambitions—all with the objective of understanding and reaching their goals for success. CORE’s approach is to sit side-by-side with Augustana students throughout their four years, and guide them—in partnership with their advisor—to make sure they are ready and equipped to achieve their goals. This approach to a residential liberal arts college education is something new.
CORE’s approach is research-driven, emphasizing the experiences that have proven most effective in preparing students to be successful. It also represents a shift in how a college can prepare students to take ownership of their career path by planning ahead and making strategic connections between in- and out-of-classroom learning. The approach of meeting students in the moment enables CORE staff to equip them with the resources and opportunities to customize their education, maximize their success, and make the necessary connections that lead to meaningful learning experiences.
Like the Tredway Library and the Center for Student Life, CORE is a hub in the center of Augustana’s campus. The centralization and integration of CORE services send an important message about our campus community, and make it easier to stop in throughout the week.
Primary services and staff are in offices and services related to advising, career development, community outreach, internships, student research, study away and vocational exploration.
Viking Score—A proactive, practical way for students to ensure they are on the path to reach their post-graduate goals
Staffing levels—An increase from four career counselors to 13 professionals
Advising and vocational exploration—Advising on first-year experience, choice of academic fields, identification of skills and talents, internship and research opportunities, career and graduate school preparation, and more
Augie Choice—$2,000 for each student to fund an internship, research experience or study abroad
Faculty-led international study—We have a long history of our faculty developing and leading international study programs at Augustana. We don’t outsource our international programs to other schools, but maintain the values of Augustana by having our faculty work with students on and off campus.
CORE prepares Augustana College graduates to navigate a challenging future and complex job market with versatility, generosity and skill. In doing so, CORE positions Augustana as one of the nation’s leaders in advancing the benefits of a liberal arts education on a residential campus.
As an admissions professional, I know that more than ever before my message must focus on this aspect of the college experience and I need to be armed with a persuasive case. I believe that CORE has equipped me with that.
How are you approaching this new frontier? Has career services and programming associated with preparing students for success taken on new life for you? What do you think of the CORE approach?
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission