Resilience in College Admission Counseling
by Andre Richburg, Ed.D.
Sr. Functional leader, CampusWorks
It’s been three years since I’ve attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual conference. Prior to the pandemic, I had attended 10 times and it had become an invaluable professional development opportunity as well as a chance to connect with peers who share my passion for ensuring equitable access to higher education for all students.
After three years away, I was thrilled to return for the NACAC Conference 2022 in Houston, Texas. With more than 6,000 secondary and higher education professionals in attendance, it felt something like a family reunion. The hugs were tighter than I remember, and I heard phrases like, “it’s so great to see you” and “this is so much better than being on Zoom or Teams” more times than I can count.
This year’s conference theme, “Resilience,” was both a nod to the pandemic and an acknowledgment of the intense time we’re facing in college admission counseling. The educational sessions were designed to help attendees consider how we can use our individual and collective resilience to shape the future of higher education and meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Since returning from the conference, I’ve been reflecting on the conversations I had with my peers. In this article, I’m sharing a few hot topics that were on many attendees’ minds as well as ideas for addressing them.
1. Racial disparity prevents equitable access to vital resources
Unfortunately, there is still a wide disparity among students of color and their white peers with regard to opportunities to access resources that will better prepare them for college-level work and success.
Institutions can increase equitable access to resources in the following ways:
- Recognize the disparity. The first step is admitting that there is an issue.
- Build community partnerships. Students and the communities in which they reside are anxious and eager to learn about the opportunities available to them in post-secondary education. Provide the necessary tools to these students in a genuine and recurring fashion.
- Consider test-optional admission. Studies have shown that standardized testing does not accurately indicate how successful a student will be in college. Since students of color tend to lack access to resources that prepare them for standardized testing, colleges should take a more holistic approach when evaluating applicants to help even the playing field.
2. Marginalized students suffer from a low sense of belonging.
Marginalized students—including those from low-income backgrounds, LGBTQA+, disabled and differently abled individuals, and people of color—still suffer from a low sense of belonging due to the lack of staff, faculty and administrators who look like them on campus. Many institutions are failing to hire diverse professionals who can genuinely engage, empathize, and assist these students.
Institutions can foster a sense of belonging among marginalized students in the following ways:
- Know your audience. With more marginalized students enrolling in college, institutions should spend time learning about these students’ diverse needs so they can become better equipped to support them.
- Become culturally sensitive. Senior administrators can model inclusivity by acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating the different cultures and beliefs that marginalized students bring to campus. For example, this might mean producing resources in different languages or organizing celebratory activities to honor different heritage months.
- Formalize advocacy. Ensure your campus community has allies in place to advocate for marginalized students’ success. These allies can be anyone, from graduate and teaching assistants to senior administrators. They can help by ensuring the institution’s programs, activities, and resources are inclusive and equitable for all.
3. Enrollment management plans often overlook transfer and community college students.
One topic that was glaringly absent from the conference presentations was equal treatment for transfer and community college students. These student segments represent a valuable enrollment opportunity for four-year institutions, but they are often overlooked. Colleges and universities would benefit from treating them akin to high school graduates, making them an integral part of their enrollment management plans.
Four-year institutions can incorporate transfer and community college students into their enrollment management plans in the following ways:
- Make transfers a priority. Actively target and recruit transfer students year-round. Waiting until after May 1, when the reality of not meeting the first-year class sets in, is not the time to start thinking about how transfers might fill that gap.
- Award transfers. Many four-year colleges and universities award first-year students with their highest, most prestigious scholarships based on their high school achievements. Transfer students, who have proven academic success for at least two years in college, are generally not privy to these awards. You can increase your institution’s appeal by making transfer students a priority, not only from an enrollment standpoint but also an aid perspective.
- Strengthen pathways. Four-year institutions have made considerable strides in the past decade to partner with community colleges to build clear pathways for transfer students. Continue building and enhancing these pathways through dual-admissions and up-to-date articulation agreements.
4. Young college admissions professionals do not fully understand the job demands.
Young professionals in the college admissions field must understand the complexity and commitment it takes to effectively recruit students for their respective colleges. They must understand that their jobs do not always follow traditional business hours. To sustain territory management and personalized student engagement, they should expect to engage in work activities during the evenings and on the weekends.
Institutions can help position young college admissions professionals for success in the following ways:
- Help them build a career. Many professionals who enter college admissions are recent college graduates who are still finding their way in life. Leaders can shape their experience by helping them see the value of their work, so they feel like they’re building a career rather than simply performing a job that is a stepping stone to something better.
- Provide professional development. Support college admissions professionals’ growth by providing opportunities for them to connect with others in the field via local workshops, information sessions, or conferences. All NACAC affiliates offer professional development for young admissions professionals.
- Invite their input. While new and young professionals may not be seasoned, they are often closest to prospective students’ needs and may have unique insights that can prove valuable to the organization. Invite their input and recommendations, provide constructive feedback to build competence, and give them credit, when due, to bolster their confidence.
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About the Author
Andre J. Richburg, Ed.D.
Sr. Functional Leader, CampusWorks
Andre Richburg is an ambitious enrollment leader with two decades of experience who’s committed to achieving growth and diversity for institutions through expanded recruitment channels, innovative marketing and personalized student and family experiences.