Every year, admissions professionals and college counselors from all over the country come together at a conference hosted by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors. Conferences of this type are usually characterized by PowerPoint presentations, contact cards, and ‘I can’t believe I haven’t seen you since last year’s conference’ hugs and handshakes – this year was no exception. Ultimately, though, we are all there to better ourselves as professionals.
The first presentation I chose to attend this year was a thought-provoking discussion about the ethics of student recruitment and the impact of those sneaky tactics colleges and universities employ to convince you to apply. As colleges and universities get caught up in the rat race, in ‘keeping up with the Jones’ – stretching the numbers to appear as competitive as [insert big name institution here], describing you as specially qualified for admission so that you apply, only to read in a ‘personalized’ letter three months later that you have been waitlisted, etc., etc. – the well-being of prospective students becomes a forgotten priority. On the whole it was a good, provocative discussion.
But the truth of the matter is that we have these discussions at every professional development conference I have been to, and the practices of college admissions offices rarely change as a result. We pat ourselves on the back for taking an hour and fifteen minutes out of our travel season to think about how we might change our practices to address your needs, and then we move on. As I was thinking this to myself, I noticed a hand go up in the front of the room – it was a co-worker of mine. Having raised his hand, he was asked to stand and address the group, and he ultimately posed the following question: When do we move beyond the discussion and actually change our practices to reflect the higher ethical standards that we all claim to be working towards?
Now, I’d be lying to you if I claimed to be working for a guilt-free institution. We have a job to do, and every year we are under more pressure to increase application numbers and to bring in a more diverse and uniquely qualified freshman class. Higher education is a business, after all. But, I am proud to know that, among all the representatives from all of the colleges and universities represented in that presentation room, the call to action came from a representative of the University of Rochester. My hope is that his suggestion will play out in this year’s admissions process and that we will begin to be an example to other colleges and universities of how to successfully change the culture of student recruitment. It also begs the question, as a prospective student, what do you think colleges and universities could do better when recruiting students?