Financial aid award letters have long been a topic of conversation within the college admission counseling profession, and as discussions about reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) intensify, Congress seems poised to join the conversation.
If passed, higher education institutions would be required to use a uniform financial aid offer form containing standardized definitions. According to the bill’s sponsors, the move is intended to ensure colleges provide information to students and families in “a consumer-friendly manner that is simple and understandable.”
Earlier this week, attendees at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) 2019 annual meeting in Los Angeles spoke for the first time at a national event about the “Operation Varsity Blues” bribery scandal.
As part of a panel that included Tammy Aagard, associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Florida and AACRAO board member, and Phil Ballinger, associate vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Washington, I had the opportunity to provide an update on NACAC’s activities to date, and to hear questions and concerns from the admission officers in attendance.
NACAC believes school counselors have an important and often under-acknowledged role to play in moving toward the goal of equity in education.
One of NACAC’s core values is that our institutional and individual members strive to eliminate from the education system bias based on race, ethnicity, creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, political affiliation, national origin, or disability. We view this as fundamental to our responsibility as educators.
However, the stark reality is that inequities do exist, and are often strongly associated with race and ethnicity.
High student-to-counselor ratios School counselors in schools serving large numbers of racial and ethnic minority students face ratios well above the current national ratio of 464:1. According to the Education Trust, a high school counselor who serves predominantly students of color has to serve 34 more students every year than a school counselor who serves fewer students of color, and 27 states are shortchanging either their students of color, students from low-income families, or both. And since black students are more likely than their white peers to cite a school counselor’s involvement in changing their college-going perceptions, such shortages present steep barriers to students of color.
Inequitable access to education resources and college preparatory coursework Evidence of racial gaps in access to school resources is plentiful. Persistent racial and ethnic gaps exist in dual enrollment and college preparatory coursework (AP and IB), which is the foundation for NACAC’s policy priority in support of equitable funding for schools to ensure that all students have access to coursework that will prepare them for education beyond high school.
Implicit bias and cultural fluency There is a substantial and growing body of research documenting individual implicit bias across all industries and facets of American life. College admission counseling professionals, including school counselors, have identified implicit bias and other, more overt, forms of bias as a critical obstacle to serving all students well. As such, NACAC recently created a resource for practitioners wishing to learn more about cultural fluency and bias, and urges school leaders and policymakers to consider the effects of bias on the educational system.
Interaction with a school counselor has statistically significant, positive effects on college-going behavior and ensuring equitable access to school counseling and other critical resources—particularly for racial/ethnic minority students—is an immediate concern to be addressed by policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels.
David Hawkins is NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daily updates on NACAC and the world of college admission counseling. For more information about NACAC, visit nacacnet.org.