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Changes to NACAC’s code of ethics creates uncertainty around future of int’l recruitment

Changes to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s code of ethics has turned recruitment and enrolment management upside down for colleges and universities in the US. But while it’s too early to fully understand what impact the changes might have on international students, stakeholders claim it will no longer be business as usual for many HEIs.

Photo: Fabien Bazanegue/ Unsplash

The changes also raise concerns about how NACAC’s ethics code will impact college counselling practices in countries like China and India

The ability to recruit students who are already enrolled at an institution onshore seems to be one of the new, and possibly controversial, outcomes of the revised code.

At its annual conference in September, NACAC voted to amend its code of ethics to allow US colleges and universities to offer incentives for recruiting early decision applicants, transfer students, and first-year students who have committed to other institutions after May 1.

The organisation also issued a one-year moratorium on enforcing the remaining parts of its ethics code.

“There might be efforts to try and incentivise more international students to go early decision”

Although NACAC is a voluntary organisation, most US colleges and universities are members, explained NACAC director of global engagement, Lindsay Addington.

She said that participants in NACAC’s college fairs are also required to abide by the code even if they are not members.


“The NACAC code really focuses on policies and practices that lookout for the best interest of students in a very complex environment,” Addington explained.

“There’s no system regulating US higher education, so institutions have the freedom to make their own decisions. What this code does is kind of level the playing field in a way that looks out for students’ best interests.”

In late 2017, the Department of Justice launched a probe into whether NACAC had violated federal antitrust laws by reducing competition between universities. NACAC leadership supported removing three provisions in its code in hopes of avoiding potential litigation from the DOJ.

And while NACAC said its rules were there to protect students, the DOJ argued that they restrict fair trade.

Addington said the DOJ has claimed that allowing institutions to compete with each other will benefit students by allowing institutions to offer them more money or other incentives.

“Ultimately they think by removing these three provisions that the students will be better served. I think that years of experience and our evolving code of ethics speaks otherwise,” she said.

She said removing the May 1 deadline (otherwise known as National College Decision Day) for example, creates more uncertainty and gives students less time to plan their transition to college.

Addington said the changes also raise concerns about how NACAC’s ethics code will impact college counselling practices in countries like China and India, where counselling is becoming increasingly professionalised.

“It’s too early to tell [what will happen], but with all of the pressures on enrolment, I think there are going to be institutions considering creative ways of doing things.”

Another area where the changes might impact international student recruitment is ‘early decision’, where a first-year student applies early to a single institution and signs a binding agreement to attend if they are accepted.

According to Addington, international students are often disadvantaged when it comes to applying via early decision, especially if they don’t have access to college counsellors because of the advanced planning necessary.

The can be hindered by things such as fewer SAT sittings abroad, she said.

“I’m wondering if now, there might be efforts on behalf of institutions to try and incentivise more international students to go early decision,” she said.

However, David Hawkins, an independent counsellor based in the UK, can see some potential benefits in the changes for students applying from abroad.

“It is kind of bringing the US into line with everybody else. These sort of recruitment incentives and strategies are entirely normal outside of the US,” Hawkins told The PIE.

“Reducing the importance of May 1 will help students who might be looking at a couple of different countries where the university process might not even start until July or August.”

For those international students who are really looking for significant levels of financial aid, he said, “this can only be positive”.

But Fanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence at American University in Washington DC, warned that some universities now might turn to recruit international students who are already attending other US institutions, something which they were previously prohibited from doing.

It might be a better return on investment to recruit international students domestically than to send staff overseas, she said.

“These sort of recruitment incentives and strategies are entirely normal outside of the US”

International students from some countries are often hindered due to long visa issuance processes, and they must commit to an institution in order to receive their I-20, which they then use to apply for a visa at a US consulate.

But once they enter the US, it’s a relatively straightforward process to transfer to another institution.

“Those students would be able to move from institution to institution, especially if universities start to actively recruit that segment of the population,” Aw said.

She told The PIE that most of her peers have said that they will continue to adhere to the NACAC code.

“The sentiment is there’s a reason why these provisions were there the first place. It’s to protect students, it’s to protect families, and frankly, to ensure that as institutions we are acting in ways that are respectful of each other.

“Everyone is saying right now that they’re going to stick with business as usual. The question is, for how long.”

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