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Thankful for the “encouragement” to #studyabroad #Spain #emchat #liberalarts

One of the best things I’ve done in my life was spend a semester studying abroad twenty-five years ago.

I was not the typical student who studied abroad; I had no interest in leaving the safety of the United States and Gettysburg College. It would be inaccurate to say that I ended up studying abroad by accident, though. My study off campus was a necessity and the experience is something for which I am eternally grateful.

Spanish was hard

It would be an understatement to say that I struggled in Spanish while in college. I struggled mightily. My comprehension was poor and grades worse. In fact, a faculty member once told me that my placement exam was among the poorest he’d ever seen. Admittedly, my work to improve in Spanish was lacking and I earned the very poor grades I received. Spanish class (and my lack of effort) landed me on academic probation at the end of my first-year of college and I found myself repeating a course for my sophomore year.

My sophomore year was not much better and I continued to struggle in Spanish. But, there were faculty members at Gettysburg College who didn’t give up on me. Dr. Kerr Thompson and Dr. Miguel Vinuela took an interest in me and did their best to help, support and motivate me. They were patient with me and worked with me to help find a path forward. Simply put, they cared. They knew the same thing that I did; if I couldn’t get Spanish figured out and successfully pass four semesters of Spanish, I would never graduate from Gettysburg.

Have you ever thought about studying in Spain?

Sometime in my sophomore year, Dr. Vinuela took me aside and planted a seed.

He asked me if I’d “ever thought about studying abroad in Spain?” I thought this was pretty amusing, given my challenges in class. But, I had the smarts to ask him, “why.” His honest answer of, “if you don’t, you will never graduate from Gettysburg,” was enough to get my attention. I asked him what I “needed to do?”

While a part of me believes Miguel offered this suggestion because he was getting weary of having me in his classes (I was a repeat offender and had him for class three of four semesters in my first two years), I soon discovered he had my best interest in mind. Miguel worked with me to get everything in order for me to spend the fall of 1990 studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain.

It was an experience that changed me and I am forever grateful.

Thanksgiving in Spain 1990

I find myself reflecting upon those special days, weeks and months in Spain around Thanksgiving each year. I think about this experience around Thanksgiving, in part, because of how grateful I am for the experience, and for Miguel Vinuela, Kerr Thompson and Gettysburg College, but also because 1990 was my first Thanksgiving away from my home in Nebraska and family.

I will never forget the Thanksgiving of 1990 and the wonderful celebration of an American holiday at the Center for Cross Cultural Study in Sevilla. While the names have faded—even those for whom I have photos—the memories have not.

  • We had turkey and stuffing.
  • We smoked cigars.
  • We watched a videotaped American football game, thanks to a family member back home.
  • We laughed.
  • We spoke English, which was good for me.
  • We enjoyed each other.
  • And, we treated each other as family since many of us were away for this holiday for the first time ever.

I will be forever grateful for Thanksgiving 1990 in Sevilla, which was a central part of my college experience and opened my mind to new ideas, place and people; involved faculty who encouraged and motivated me; and, friends who treated me like family.

And, I am increasingly aware that the experience would have never been possible without family that supported me; for that I am forever grateful.

Giving thanks still

In many ways I have come to realize that the experience of studying away in 1990 shaped what I do today and what I wish for others.

The fall of 1990 was a defining experience, which has guided my work in higher education to this day. I hope every student I have the opportunity to work with will encounter faculty members who will take a chance on them and push them to take an uncomfortable risk to grow; they will be grateful.

W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission







Post-#NACAC15 ramblings: Uncertainty and adversarial are the two words that come to mind #emchat #admissions

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

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