Wednesday, October 3, 2018

News from the NACAC Conference

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

The 74th annual convention of The National Association for College Admission Counseling was held in Salt Lake City, providing counselors with announcements, discussions, and new ideas to consider when working with all of their students—those considering college, and those looking for other equally bright paths after high school.

Common App and Reach Higher Combine Many organizations use the NACAC conference as an occasion to announce major initiatives, and that was clearly the case this year, as The Common Application announced its acquisition of Reach Higher, the college access/college readiness movement initiated by former First Lady Michelle Obama.  Common Application offers students the opportunity to apply to over 800 colleges and universities with one basic college application, while Reach Higher’s message of college opportunity is primarily aimed at underserved students, including students of color, students who would be the first in their family to go to college, and students in rural and urban areas.

While no new initiatives were announced as part of the merger, the education community can look to an expanded presence of the “college is possible” message to all students. Many counselors at the conference noted that Common App and Reach Higher have a “can do” attitude in their business philosophies that is contagious.  Here’s hoping that’s true.

Harvard Lawsuit Spurs Discussion About College Admission  A great deal of discussion at the NACAC conference centered on the lawsuit filed against Harvard, claiming that the school’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian Americans. While the lawsuit was filed in 2014, it has finally cleared its last legal hurdle, and will begin in earnest in the next few weeks.

The lawsuit is of interest to school counselors for two reasons. First, it involves the use of affirmative action, and its use in discriminating against a racial minority— a remarkable claim, given that the purpose of affirmative action is to prevent such discrimination. 
Second, the case brings into question all elements used in the college admissions process of holistic review—the idea that students should be admitted to college on factors beyond grades and test scores.  Observers suggest that a finding against Harvard could advance efforts to eliminate the use of test scores in college admissions, while others suggest it may require colleges to pay more attention to grades and tests scores, even though recent studies suggest these measure can contain their own racial biases.

A Film About Counseling Debuts  NACAC was also the ideal location for a movie to debut that focus on college access.  Personal Statement follows three low-income students through the college selection process, and will soon be shown on PBS. It was well received in the initial screening at Salt Lake City, as counselors said it drew a realistic picture of the challenges low-income students face when applying to college. The director of the film was in the audience, as was one of the students featured in the film, making the conversation after the screening insightful and spirited.

NACAC Membership Changes Tabled  The NACAC conference tends to be more student-centered than NACAC-centered, but one major exception this year was a proposal for sweeping changes in the membership categories offered through NACAC.  An initial proposal was sent to all members earlier this year, and subsequent feedback led to significant changes in the proposal even prior to the conference.

The changes weren’t enough to sway those in attendance at the membership meeting, with some elements of the proposal seeing amendments to the amendments of the amendments.  With further discussion, it was determined the membership proposal needed further review.  Look for it to reappear at next year’s NACAC conference in Lousiville.

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