Colleagues and friends,
In the last two weeks I’ve been putting together planning meetings for the Enrollment and Advancement. These planning meetings, which coincide with the beginning of the academic year, always provide a fresh start. This annual fresh start—or reset—is one of the reasons I like working in higher ed. as much as I do; there is a cadence to the yearly cycle that invites a gear up and resetting of goals and aspirations.
Even though I know the work never ends and there is less “down-time” than ever before, the fall planning meetings always feels like a new year. In fact, I often find myself establishing resolutions about what I’ll try to do better or different this year. My faithfulness to these resolutions over the years have been a mixed bag, but lack of success has never discouraged me from setting new goals and outlining new ambitions for the year.
Do you set new resolutions for the academic year? Have you set any yet? How will you track and monitor them? Who do you share your goals with? And, do they align with the institution’s strategic plan?
Mine, like so many other things, are on a sticky note that I have to look at daily.
Below are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about over the course of past few days. As always, I invite your observations.
A thought I can’t get out of my mind
I just finished “The generosity network: New transformational tools for successful fundraising.” (It’s the same book I referenced last week. It’s great and I hope everyone will read it). Again, while it is a book about fundraising, it has much to teach us about relationship-building, which is essential to every job in higher education.
Until reading this book I was unfamiliar with the “SIM Challenge.” In a section discussing finding meaning in every conversation, it is suggested that following a conversation one asks themselves the following questions:
S: What surprised you?
I: What inspired you?
M: What moved you?
This is an interesting framework, in my view. One could ask these questions following a meeting with a donor, a prospective student, a parent, an alum, a colleague or even use such a framework for call reports or interview write-ups. Wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to try to apply SIM questions for a weeks worth of meetings and interactions and see if you learn something more actionable than you are learning now?
Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
I am far from self-help guy, but I do run across an occasional article that offers some perspective that I think is worth considering in my own life and sharing with others.
A few weeks ago I had a number of Facebook friends post the article, “10 ways you are making your life harder than it has to be.” I know that it looks like good “click bait,” but it’s really worthwhile. In particular, I thought the passages about unrealistic/un-communicated expectations and not being able to let go were very good.
I think this article is timely with the reset of a new academic year. Are there things on this list of 10 things that you need to address in the coming year?
“Here’s What Your Development Office is Getting Wrong” is an article that caught my attention! This is worth a quick read, if only to be reassured about the changes and improvements we are making in Development at Augustana. We are reassessing all of our metrics to make sure we are focused on those that have meaning and help us accomplish what we want to accomplish with a donor. Rather than simply focusing on the number of visits a gift officer makes, we are going to focus on making the right kind of visits from a qualitative perspective. Similar to student recruitment, there are stages we need to move a potential donor through (researched-> assigned-> qualified-> solicited-> gift closed-> stewardship of the gift). The qualitative measures will change from time-to-time, but simply setting up a visit and calling it good is a thing of the past. We are also thinking differently about how to effectively use gift officer time and some subtle shifts in the area of gift officer support and the standardization of scheduling should have a tremendous impact.
So, the bottom-line on this article is that it does not describe or define the development function at Augustana College
Something for you (and me) to think about
Last spring Jennie, the kiddos and Jennie’s parents went to Springfield to visit the Abraham Lincoln museum. They brought back t-shirts and Jennie has promised to take me sometime. But, I’ve never been. Instead, all I got was a book, “The Wit & Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln,” which I peck away at in the evenings before going to bed. I write lots of notes in the margins and turn down pages as I read things that stand out. I think it’s worth sharing President Lincoln’s wisdom regarding happiness.
The following is attributed to Lincoln and is worth thinking about:
“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Perhaps no truer words have been spoken.
Let me know what’s on your mind and what you are thinking about.
P.S. And, if at any time this is clogging your inbox let me know and I’ll be happy to take you off of the list.
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.
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