Looking Back at the 2010s – A Decade of Growth, Impact, and Change

A Decade of Growth

Over the past decade, NACAC membership has grown by nearly 40 percent and is now more than 15,000 members strong.

As our membership expanded and changed throughout the 2010s, so did the programs NACAC offered.

Take a closer look at this decade of growth.

National College Fairs
The National College Fairs program has expanded from 72 college fairs in 2010 to a planned 96 fairs in 2020. This expansion included growth for the existing college fair and performing and visual arts fair programs, as well as the creation of an international fair and the STEM College and Career Fairs.

NACAC’s STEM College and Career Fairs began as an idea to offer a more specialized program to students interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. With help from a STEM Ad Hoc Committee made up of industry leaders, three pilot sites were identified for implementation in Fall 2016. Houston, San Francisco, and New York City started it all and in just three years, the number of STEM fairs offered has jumped to 10 fairs across the country.

Started in 2016, the Vancouver International Universities Fair (VIUF) has grown to one of the premiere recruiting events in the Vancouver area. Powered by its local committee, the VIUF has created opportunities for students and families to connect with hundreds of institutions that were inaccessible to them before. In 2019, more than 3,800 parents and students came to the event to see colleges and universities from 13 different countries from across the globe.

“Through its National College Fairs programs, NACAC is honored to be a leader in creating opportunities for students and college and university representatives to meet and explore a plethora of options available to them in their college search,” said Pia Brown, director of National College Fairs. “NACAC’s programs are focused on providing platforms for students to search colleges and universities, connect with colleges in person, and find colleges that are the right fit for them, and we plan to continue this work through the next decade and beyond.”

National Conference
The national conference remains one of the association’s most popular events.

Throughout the 2010s, the conference grew not only in attendance, but also in unique educational offerings, and even expanded to host the association’s first international conference in 2013.

At the beginning of the decade, NACAC offered 122 education sessions, but by 2019, that number had grown to 155 total offerings. Moving beyond the traditional educational session, NACAC introduced the Learning Lounge, Tech Lab, Global Hub, and Career Hub this decade, allowing the chance for more member-led sessions, as well as different ways for attendees to consume content. In 2020, 195 educational opportunities are planned with even more new formats to come.

“Looking toward the next conference, we anticipate innovative educational delivery options, greater opportunities for engagement and networking, while continuously incorporating longstanding NACAC conference favorites,” said Shannon Burke, director of conference and meetings. “While we have grown in the past decade, we are still dedicated to making the conference experience feel personal and unique to each attendee.”

Guiding the Way to Inclusion
Guiding the Way to Inclusion (GWI) has grown tremendously over the past decade. Attendance has more than doubled and the session offerings have expanded. In 2019, GWI celebrated a banner year. A record-setting 257 participants attended the conference in Fort Lauderdale which featured 35 education sessions, a SIG fair, and roundtable discussions.

“GWI has been around in various iterations for over 40 years. As our world has evolved in how it confronts issues of access, equity, diversity, and inclusion, so has GWI. The growth and longevity of this program demonstrates that people continue to care about and are invested in these issues. It also shows that there is more work to be done,” said Crystal Newby, senior associate director of education and training.

“Over the next decade, my hope is that GWI continues to grow and that our members continue to see the value in this NACAC staple.”

Annual Advocacy Meeting
Advocacy Meeting participants in front of a senator's officeWith a push from the Government Relations Committee and a rising interest in advocacy after the 2016 election, participation in the annual advocacy meeting has tripled over the last decade.

In addition to providing insight into the education policy landscape and offering advocacy training, the meeting connects attendees directly with around 300 legislative offices each year. Over the past 10 years, these member-advocates have pushed for significant increases to the Pell grant and other need-based student aid programs; passage of regulations and laws to protect students from unscrupulous institutions; the switch from bank-based lending to direct loans; and provisions supporting school counselors in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“NACAC members are passionate about their jobs and the students they work with. We have seen that passion communicated to elected officials in DC and around the country,” said Mike Rose, director of government relations. “I hope that members will continue to raise their voice as a postsecondary credential becomes even more important.”

Imagine Fund
Over the past decade, the number of donors to the Imagine Fund has grown by nearly 20 percent and donation revenue has increased by 62 percent. In 2019, Slate.org made Imagine Fund history when they donated $25,000, marking the largest single donation the Fund has ever received.

“We are ecstatic that support for the Imagine Fund continues to grow each year. This additional funding allows us to award additional grants for professional development opportunities, and school programs that directly benefit students,” said Megan LaVine, director of sponsorships and external relations. “Currently we are only able to fulfill about half of the grant requests we receive, and I hope to get to a point where we are able to award funding to all those who are in need.”

Going Global
In 2012, the NACAC board of directors established a department of international initiatives — now known as the more aptly titled department of global engagement — to coordinate efforts around the counseling, recruitment, enrollment, and ongoing support of international students at US educational institutions. This came at a time when the number of international students at US higher education institutions was growing, and the need for ethical and culturally sensitive standards and practices for recruiting and counseling was increasing.

Though initially focused on supporting members who assisted international students coming to the US for higher education, our programs and services now support multiple directions of mobility and at both the postsecondary and secondary levels. For students interested in studying outside of the United States, NACAC’s Guide to International University Admission—a result of collaborations with government agencies around the world—has become a go-to resource. For counselors at US secondary schools who are supporting international students wanting to complete a US high school diploma, a toolkit and special interest group exist. Our international policy priorities are well established and resources have been created to support members’ efforts in advocating for international students. The association has built strong relationships with government agencies focused on international student mobility to the US. NACAC has joined with the Department of State’s EducationUSA network and other international education organizations like NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Institute for International Education in support of research, including the international enrollments snapshot surveys, to better understand trends and issues impacting the field.

“I admire the dedication and hard work of our members who travel extensively to new and emerging markets, communicate virtually across many time zones, ensure culturally relevant programs exist at their institutions, all in support of international students who make our communities and educational experiences richer and more diverse,” said Lindsay Addington, director of global engagement. “NACAC’s department of global engagement will continue to be of service to you in achieving this goal.”

A Decade of Impact

As NACAC grew in every way, so did its ability to make an impact both within the membership and on a larger scale.

Here are just a few of the ways NACAC made a difference over the past 10 years.

  • In 2010, NACAC staff successfully delivered a copy of The Journal of College Admission on undocumented students to all 535 members of Congress as they debated the DREAM Act.

  • NACAC staff submitted, in conjunction with affiliated organizations, amicus curiae briefs to the US Supreme Court on topics including support for DACA/undocumented students, support for race-conscious admission, and opposition to the Trump administration’s travel ban.


  • NACAC staff and member-leaders testified in Congressional committee hearings on ethical recruitment, protecting students from unscrupulous colleges, and tax provisions for higher education.


  • NACAC staff and member-leaders provided expertise in Congressional briefings on all topics in NACAC’s issue spectrum, such as school counselors, equity in K-12 and higher education, need-based financial aid, undocumented students and postsecondary education, and student protections from unscrupulous institutions.


  • Starting with the 2018 National Conference in Salt Lake City, NACAC began offering a land acknowledgement at the start of the national conference each year. Learn more about the impact of land acknowledgements and why NACAC is making them a priority.

A Decade of Change and Challenges

It would be impossible to look back on the past decade and not acknowledge some of the challenges we have faced as a profession and an organization.

In 2019 alone, the Varsity Blues bribery scandal shook public trust in the college admission process and the antitrust complaint and consent decree filed by the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice rocked NACAC and its membership. Longtime NACAC CEO Joyce E. Smith also announced her planned retirement after more than 30 years with the association.

Change is on the horizon, but if history is any indication NACAC will stand strong for decades to come.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s senior communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

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