I vividly recall the lead-up to the 2017 National Conference in Boston and the historic vote of the NACAC Assembly on a new code of ethics—one intended to be more holistic, inclusive, and transformational. I know many, myself included, were ready and enthusiastic to move away from the formulaic Statement of Principles of Good Practice and its listings of prescriptive and normative practices to a document capturing the essence and collaboration endemic throughout the profession. This was confirmed by the Assembly’s vote, unanimous in its support.
As a delegate to the Assembly beginning with that 2017 National Conference, I had the privilege of casting a vote in favor of the new code. And having just rolled off as co-chair of the Admission Practices Committee for the Minnesota affiliate the year before the conference in Boston, I had the benefit of observing the input, collaboration, and consensus-building process that had led up to the Assembly vote. I recall the conversations. The input sessions at various affiliate venues. The conference calls hosted by the national chair and committee. The numerous surveys and information channels. I was excited at the prospect of transfer students’ inclusion in what was taking shape; diving into new waters like wait lists; and the continued reliance on long-held key standards, both practical as well as aspirational. Though that was more than two years ago, the impact and process left an indelible impression.
I also distinctly recall the vote at the 2019 National Conference in Louisville—another historic vote of the Assembly, altering many of the key components and practices of the new code that had been previously paused (and technically never in full force) since the 2017 conference. Again, I was there, and the sense of gravity and deflation caused by that vote—much like the elation of the one in 2017—is still very much with me, likely as it is with you.
I have often wondered since the conference: What remains now, and where do we go from here?
While those questions are ones the board, national Admission Practices Committee, and affiliate Admission Practices committees have been reflecting on and tackling in the months since the conference, I remain genuinely optimistic for the future of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices, even in light of current circumstances. While it is difficult in times of flux to anticipate where an outcome, product, or process will ultimately land, I remain optimistic about the CEPP for two primary reasons.
Firstly, I remain hopeful because of who we are as professionals. While it seems much has been torn down and taken away (and, to be pointed, much has, something I do not want to minimize or downplay as I write this column), the work continues post-Assembly. Hope is not something we await—it is something we work toward. I cannot think of a more committed group of advocates, accomplices, and allies than college counselors and admission professionals, especially as it relates to ensuring ethics, accountability, and justice in the college search process for those we advise.
My second reason for optimism is the charge set by our organization’s current president, Jayne Caflin Fonash, for NACAC to lead important conversations “on the future of accessible, equitable, and affordable postsecondary education.” We remain strong and committed, and while the role of the national and affiliate Admission Practices Committees might be moving from one of monitoring compliance to one of education, we are still a community of practitioners committed to one goal: higher education access with students at the core. This remains.
Are we in a period where we simply have to “wait and see” how the enrollment market develops? Will unfair, manipulative practices pile up? What will be the short-term and long-term changes in the profession?
There are layered, nuanced factors in reply to all of these real concerns and points of anxiety, and stakeholder responses, too, which are varied depending on whether they come from students, counselors, or institutions. While we cannot hold those outside our professional family accountable for their approaches, motivations, and interests, and while individuals and institutions have choices to make as to how to respond to these broad changes in the profession, we can hold one another to a higher standard. In short: While the impact is vast, so is the potential to band together as a profession in our collective response.
In future columns and NACAC updates, you will continue to hear from the board and from those of us on the national Admission Practices Committee about the happenings and process as it moves along. We will share research, data, and analysis when possible. We will reflect on the current state of affairs and the relationship it has to enrollment timelines and institutional considerations. We will continue to acknowledge the broad impact on students and families in their postsecondary search processes and considerations.
Even given the above tasks, though, I want to start where I think we should at a liminal moment that challenges us to frame our daily work. That starting point is not grounded in market tactics, corrections, or really, even admission practices, but in our concern for why students access higher education from the get-go: the hope for their futures and the belief in themselves. These aspirations are ones all of us are already behind.
Aaron Salasek is director of outreach and recruitment at Inver Hills Community College (MN) and chair of NACAC’s Admission Practices Committee.