Post-NACAC rambling: Uncertainty and adversarial are the two words that come to mind
I returned home Saturday night following the annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) in San Diego. It was a great time to see friends and colleagues, renew relationships, and meet many new people. Attending this conference is always a good reminder of the passionate people who are a part of this profession that is so central to creating a college-bound culture.
While I could offer all kinds of post-conference analysis, including complaining about the inadequately sized rooms allotted for sessions, or reflecting on the idea that “the conference has gotten too big,” a refrain I heard many times, I am going to stick to two things that stood out to me. Two themes came up time and time again in my conversations with people and I think they are worth thinking about.
First, it seems there is more uncertainty than ever before, which has resulted in what an unsettling feeling. Second, I think the profession in which I’ve worked for more than 20 years is more adversarial than at any time before. While there may be no clear “us vs. them,” there sure is a lot of us vs. somebody and it simply feels different to me. While I am sure others will have another, perhaps more optimistic, take on NACAC 2015, these themes deserve some attention.
The college admissions process, like financial markets, hates uncertainty.
This conference was abuzz with all sorts of things that create uncertainty for college counselors and college admissions professionals. Really this list is as long as I can recall. Think about it: Prior-Prior-Year (PPY); the new SAT; the Coalition Application; the potential for a rule change from the Department of Labor that may impact many admissions professionals; the political season; changes to the FAFSA, etc. Things seem to be moving quickly—perhaps too quickly for us to keep up—and it’s created all sorts of anxiety among our ranks.
In my view, all of this uncertainty has invited people to consider a “parade of horribles” about what could and may happen, which is largely unhealthy. I need to be clear that this is not about change, or change on the horizon. Our profession has always responded well to change, especially when there has been sufficient time to discuss it and understand the impact. We are increasingly faced with uncertainty about what this change may mean for each of us. This is scary and unsettling for many and complicates a process that has remained pretty predictable for generations.
It’s my hope that as some of the uncertainty abates we will see some return to normalcy, but I think we will have to wait and see.
Did changing “of” to “for” change what we do?
I believe our association is more adversarial than ever before. There’s a different rhythm to our work and I received confirmation of this from several others with whom I spoke at NACAC. Don’t get me wrong. We are friends. We respect each other, especially publically. We all choose to work with students and help them make good decisions. But, something has shifted since the early 90s, when I started in this work.
It’s possible I am one of the conspiracy theorists, but the fact that we are using terms like “protect,” “harm,” “intentionally mislead,” “motive and motives,” and “transparency” imply some malicious intent on the part of members. I don’t think anyone in this profession seeks to harm students and I am troubled by how often such is implied in the public rhetoric about our work.
I am willing to acknowledge that spats, snark and expressions of concern may just be more visible because of social media and a commitment to transparency, but conflict, disappointment and an “us vs. them” spirit is more prevalent than I ever recall. It would be difficult to argue against the fact that we see more college counselors vs. colleges, colleges vs. college counselors, college counselors vs. The College Board, non-coalition app schools vs. coalition app schools, vendor vs. vendor, etc. It’s weird. I simply don’t understand when we became so antagonistic.
I can’t help but wonder if the change from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling invited the adversarial approach.
I understood and supported the change, which I believe was intended to be more inclusive and to focus on the process in which we all engage.
But, I do wonder—once out loud and now in writing—whether or not when we were a profession of people with a shared purpose, we were more likely to talk, debate and seek a common understanding of each others’ challenges and efforts in our larger work. Now, I see mal-intent assigned, conspiracy theories offered, and even some suggestion of practices intended to harm students whenever there is an area of disagreement or less-than-full understanding.
I think it is fair to ask: Has our emphasis on “for” rather than “of” distanced us from each other and the partnership in which we must engage to positively impact this process? Have we gotten too big? Have we lost our way? Are we doing too much? Do we still have a shared mission? Are we still a member-driven organization? I don’t know, but I can tell you that being adversaries when we should be partners is not what I seek from my membership with NACAC.
So, while my time in San Diego was a great and I am proud of those who do the work of the association, I left with some questions about us and our shared future.
What were your thoughts about NACAC 2015 and what do you think about my comments? Am I nuts?
Kent Barnds a.k.a @bowtieadmission