The recent 2019 National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) National Conference marked an end of an era for many aspects of college admissions.
Three Big Changes
The most significant change was to the NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP).
Before these changes were made, colleges were not allowed to do the following:
(a.) Offer incentives, like larger financial aid packages or priority housing, to applicants who applied under the early decision program.
(b.) Recruit a student once they had submitted a deposit to another institution.
(c.) Convince previous applicants or prospects to transfer to their school unless the student first inquires about transferring.
Now, these three provisions have been reversed. With these changes, it completely alters the rules of competition among colleges. The calendar and deadlines that college admissions officers and students alike have been following for years will no longer be relevant. With the removal of these three provisions, both the college admissions process and students will be affected.
Why These Changes?
What might be shocking about this controversial vote is that it wasn’t even close. It passed 211-3, but many delegates expressed the opinion that they had no choice but to pass it.
Approximately two years ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation about whether NACAC’s code of ethics violated federal antitrust laws. The DOJ believed that by restricting schools’ ability to recruit students after May 1, students might be missing out on opportunities to access education at lower costs because they are in higher demand for more colleges.
However, one college official who wished to remain anonymous spoke to The Chronicle of Higher Education and stated that conversations with the DOJ weren’t always fruitful. “We tried to explain that students should be free from pressure from the many players with a vested interest in the outcomes of those decisions,” the official said. “But the DOJ sees this purely through the lens of restraint of trade. They think they’re protecting applicants’ financial outcomes.”
Even though NACAC delegates might not have agreed with the DOJ, they felt pressure to accept the provisions, or risk the future of the organization. Attempting to avoid drawn-out legal proceedings, the association’s leaders encouraged members to vote in favor of removing the provisions.
The Impact On College Admissions
College admissions are in for a big change, and it could be hard to predict what the fallout will be. Recruiting could carry on into the late summer, with students fielding offers from different institutions and looking for the best deal.
It will also change what students get for applying early. Similar rules will still apply; students who apply under the binding early decision application are required to attend, unless due to financial reasons. The benefit of applying early under single-choice early action (restrictive early action) or early decision was always the higher acceptance rate. For example, Brown University accepted 18.2% of its early applicants for the class of 2023, but just 4.8% of the applicants from the regular decision pool.
But now, students might receive additional incentives and benefits for applying early and committing to a school before January. Last fall, High Point University tried to further entice students to apply early decision by giving them priority in choosing housing and classes. They would also be able to move in a day earlier than regular pool applicants.
These kinds of incentives, which used to be barred under the CEPP, might become commonplace under this new era of college admissions.
Recruitment: Recruiting students already take up a large portion of many school’s budgets. Private and nonprofit colleges spend an average of $2,232 to attract one student. Public universities spend $578, and community colleges spend $118 per student. Now that the rules have changed, with recruitment allowed late into the summer, will the costs of recruiting go up further? Will that cost then be passed onto students? In the next couple of years, we will have to watch to see if there is an increase in recruiting and its costs.
Out-of-state students: Over 240 U.S. public universities admitted fewer in-state students in 2017 than they did five years ago. Students at top universities, like the University of California, also came under recent fire for the decrease in in-state students admitted. Bringing in out-of-state and international students is often a business decision for colleges due to the higher tuition costs that they bring to the institution. Students who want to attend colleges out of state might find that they are more heavily recruited because of the increased tuition costs they bring universities.
College deposits: Students who want to secure a spot at a university will still have to let the school know and send in a non-refundable college deposit by May 1. Because schools can recruit students past this date and offer them attractive financial packages to encourage them to attend their school, we might see that schools will increase their enrollment deposits to discourage poaching. Deposits vary from school to school, but if they were raised to a couple of thousands of dollars, it might discourage students from losing that deposit.
Students: The entire reasoning behind the DOJ pushing NACAC to change its code of ethics was to help protect the choices of students. It is possible that students, who are willing to wait before committing to a college, will get a bigger discount from the school. As the deadline for the start of the new school year looms, schools might become more desperate to fill their class and try to recruit students. A financial package that offers a substantial tuition discount might be hard for some families to turn down.
Who Gets Hurt?
Institutions that rely heavily on tuition: Some institutions rely more on tuition than alumni donations to survive from year-to-year. In both 2017 and 2018, the top 20 institutions raised 28% of the total college donations. It isn’t always just alumni donations that help fund schools; donors who didn’t attend that particular college, corporations and foundations are powerful sources as well. Schools who can raise more money outside of their tuition can use it for new technology, buildings and more. These types of schools won’t be as affected by the fluctuating number of students and tuition costs from year to year.
Smaller schools that don’t get as much funding from alumni donations and rely on tuition might suffer. According to Moody’s Investors Service, private college closures increased by a rate of 11 schools a year, with that number expected to rise even further in the following years. There are currently about 750 small private colleges that are having trouble covering costs sufficiently.
As students are now allowed to be poached at the last minute by competing institutions, these already-struggling small colleges might suffer. The ability to predict the size of incoming freshman classes will become even harder. Tuition-dependent institutions might close their doors at faster rates if they have trouble holding onto their students.
Small schools: Similarly, smaller schools or community colleges with more modest budgets might have trouble competing with larger schools, which can spend thousands of dollars on recruitment. These schools might have to come up with innovative ways to recruit and keep their students.
High school counselors: As students shuffle schools well into the summer, high school counselors will suddenly find their relaxing summers suddenly full of work. Because universities can approach students who haven’t previously applied, students will need their counselors to send off transcripts, letters of recommendation or other pieces of the application.
Students: While there might be some benefits to the changes, students could also be negatively impacted as well. Students who have finally made the difficult decision of where they are going to go to college might then be hounded by other universities, trying to get them to change their minds. While it might be a minor inconvenience to some, it might add stress and anxiety to an already difficult decision for other students.
What Won’t Change
(a.) May 1 being the standard deadline day by which students must send in their deposit to their university of choice will likely not change. Students will have ample opportunity to consider their financial aid packages before making their choice.
(b.) ED will remain binding.
(c.) The college deposits will remain non-refundable.
While it is still early, it’s clear that these changes will have major implications down the road for both students and colleges alike.