2020 Vision: A Time to Double Down on Students

By Jayne Caflin Fonash, NACAC President

Headshot of Jayne Caflin Fonash, NACAC President

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to colleagues around the world who have persevered both personally and professionally these past weeks and months, in all likelihood working from home while looking out for your own families.

One year ago, we were reacting to the Varsity Blues scandal. Six months ago, at our conference in Louisville, we began to address the changes buffeting our organization, the challenges they pose to the work we all do, and most importantly the opportunities they present.

Fast forward to the world we live in today, where a once-in-a-century pandemic threatens our health and wellbeing, our economic stability, and the very fabric of our cultures and communities. Once again, the landscape of college admission is forever changed, and I challenge every one of you to consider what you will do differently on your campuses and with your students to strengthen the future of accessible, equitable, and ethical postsecondary enrollment and retention.

In a time of crisis, it becomes easier to question accepted realities, to seek solutions that may well be found outside the usual compass, and to seize the opportunity to do things that we could not have done before. As college admission counselors and professionals in these unprecedented and uncertain times, let us double down on one objective above all others: to help students and families navigate this continuously shifting terrain and make decisions about enrollment for this coming fall, and the years immediately ahead.

So, what does this mean? As you read on, imagine yourself inside the brains and hearts of 18-year-olds, making the most important decision of their young lives.

For those of us in admission offices, the practice of how we reach out to students, how we message information to our students, how we decide whom to admit, and how we build and retain a class, must continue to change. Unless you have a crystal ball (and if you do, please share it with us), I hope that you have already made peace with the understanding that on-campus admitted student events are not likely to happen this spring. For that matter, late spring/early summer orientation programs may not occur in person as they have in the past.

Thousands of students will be contacting your offices to request reassessment of their financial need. Those students may also need additional time to make an enrollment decision or may inquire about your policy concerning refundable deposits. Campus safety and health care will become more important to many students and families. Uncertainty also surrounds the College Board’s AP testing for this spring, as students wonder if their 2020 test scores will meet the criteria for course credit at your institutions.

Predicting yield will be particularly challenging given changes in the NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP), but also because of our campus closures. Know that your colleagues around the admission desk realize this and support your efforts to keep students at the core of your decision-making.

The flexibility your institution demonstrates as you resolve these challenges may in fact be your most important action this spring. Student and family perception of your flexibility may in fact replace the campus visit as a primary factor in student decisions regarding attendance and deposit.

At last year’s national conference, I challenged those of us in counseling offices, to reconsider the practice of how we inform, prepare, and advise students about postsecondary opportunities and how those efforts must continue to change and expand. Now more than ever, we must be more mindful of the physical, emotional, and financial stress these students and their families experience every day.  

Much of our practice with students—counseling them about their best fit academically, socially, and economically—will happen quite differently this spring as platforms such as Zoom and Skype become some of the most important tools in our communications with students. We will be challenged to counsel students on one of the most important decisions of their lives through these virtual platforms rather than within the familiarity of our offices and schools.

You, your faculty and principal, your superintendent, and your heads of school will be challenged to identify and implement online teaching platforms complete with clear grading practices for the remainder of the current academic year, and to provide accurate final transcripts for your students. Although the College Board recently announced that AP tests will be available online this year, we are all awaiting further information concerning access for students without a personal device, without internet connectivity in their homes, or for those who take these tests with accommodations based on demonstrated disabilities. And, there are still unknown implications of this pandemic that could keep some students from leaving home in late summer or early fall.

So, what do we do to advance the work at hand? NACAC is providing two online tools as central resources for information about changes in college admission events and deposit dates as well as high school services and counselor availability as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Check out the College Admission Status Update and the Status of College Admission Services at Schools.

How are counselors responding to these challenges? How can we share our best practices this spring and summer? As we continue to support each other through this crisis, I am asking that you take just a brief moment in these admittedly hectic, next few days to share with our NACAC community something that you’ve done in your schools and at your institutions that helped students and families calmly sort through the challenges they are facing in their admission decisions. Please consider posting your story on The Gathering Place on Facebook. I know that the lessons you’ve learned firsthand will be helpful to our colleagues, as all of us seek to keep our bearings as we cover similar ground.

I wish each of you good health and safety. And more than anything, I want everyone who is reading this column today to be reading the Bulletin a year from now, continuing to advance opportunities for the next generations, and sharing stories about the students who began their college education in fall 2020. In the meantime, join me in using online platforms to stay connected to your students, your friends and family, and your colleagues around the world.

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