#NACAC19: Beyond Operation Varsity Blues


Operation Varsity Blues uncovered a complex bribing and cheating scandal within the world of selective college admission.

Although no admission professionals were implicated in the wrongdoing, the scandal’s visibility prompted many discussions among those in the field—conversations that continued last week at NACAC’s 75th National Conference in Louisville.

A panel of nine NACAC members explored the long-term implications for the admission profession and responded to some of the big questions raised in the wake of scandal. The wide-reaching discussion was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education and was one of the conference’s most well-attended sessions.

“At a minimum, the scandal and its aftermath have revealed that there’s a widespread lack of understanding about how students are recruited and admitted to college in the United States,” Stefanie Niles, NACAC’s immediate past-president, told conference attendees during the session’s introduction. “And beyond the public’s perceptions, the scandal has raised some legitimate questions about the influence of wealth and privilege in the admission process.”

Miss out on the conversation? Below are some highlights from the discussion.

On perceptions of the process:

“Mystery creates mistrust, and in the absence of a narrative, the public creates their own.” — Angel B. Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success, Trinity College (CT)

“When the public says they want (college admission) to more transparent, I think sometimes they just want a formula. As long as, of course, the formula works for them.” —Jeffrey Selingo, panel moderator and author of a forthcoming book on college admission

On changing student mindsets:

“It’s hard for students who have been raised to think that they are special to then be told by an outsider that they are not special…So how do we change that conversation around ‘where I’m getting in’ and ‘why is this process fair or not fair’ to ‘what are the things that I’m bringing to that university’ and ‘what are the things that I’m going to do there?’” — Aliza Gilbert, college counselor, Highland Park High School (IL)

On access and inclusion:

“If we really want our institutions to achieve their mission of inclusiveness and diversity, we have to build relationships of trust in the communities where we want to recruit these students. And that means that we cannot simply be in those communities when we are looking for students…we have a responsibility to the communities within which we reside.” — Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management, University of California, Los Angeles

On the concept of fairness:

“This concept of fairness is really tricky, and it’s especially tricky when you’re trying to explain it to families who have never been dealt a fair hand in life. So how do you then look at those families who have never experienced fairness in education, in environment, in community, and then say: ‘Trust me, this process is fair.’…There is a certain level of mistrust that starts there when you’re asking them to believe in a concept that they’ve never seen before.” — Sanjay Mitchell, director of college and alumni support, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School (DC)

Did you attend the session? Share your biggest takeaways in the comment section below.

Recordings of the Beyond Operation Varsity Blues panel and all 2019 conference sessions are available for purchase through PlaybackNow. View package options.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

One thought on “#NACAC19: Beyond Operation Varsity Blues”

  1. At large, the panel position in a post-Varsity Blues world is a call to action to:
    Increase transparency in the process
    Reach deeper and sooner into the diversity pools they are seeking to cultivate
    To control the over-hyped “Selectivity” rhetoric by removing perceived or implied barriers to admission.
    Initiate self-examination of current admissions practices with internal audits.
    Are we truly holistic?
    Are there any implied bias in the process?
    Are activity lists being curated to impress OR are they authentic?
    How many seniors seem to start clubs in senior year?

    Admissions committees are walking a fine line between trust and verification of things in the application such as activities and clubs, etc.

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