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International ACAC conference spotlights non-traditional HEI options

A record number of college counsellors, admissions staff and high school representatives from 75 countries gathered in New Orleans for the International ACAC conference to discuss concerns, trends and strategies for students’ transition from secondary to higher education.

More than 1,400 delegates from 75 countries attended the International ACAC conference 2018. Photo: The PIE News

The conference saw 1,436 participants visit downtown NOLA for three days of professional development and interactive sessions

Now in its 25th year, the 2018 conference co-hosted by Tulane University and Loyola University saw 1,436 delegates visit downtown NOLA for three days of professional development and interactive sessions ranging from scholarships to cross-cultural approaches to mental health.

“International students’ shouldn’t look at community colleges as last resort option”

A key focus for many college counsellors were non-traditional postsecondary education options under USD$10,000 per year, such as community colleges, universities in the Baltics and across Eastern Europe.

Pamela Kelly Wetzell, head of university advising at the east campus of UWC South East Asia, told The PIE News one of the biggest challenges for college counsellors is the “spiralling costs” for students who wish to study abroad.

“More families are willing to look beyond the US and UK now for education, so it’s great to learn about universities in countries that offer lower tuition but rigorous programs in engineering, medicine and computer science,” she said.

“It’s very important that we as college counsellors look at good quality options at affordable prices, as the traditional options become very expensive for international students.”

Session panellist and director of international education at San Mateo Community College District, Diane Arguijo, told The PIE that by attending a community college international students can get used to US academic expectations, polish their language skills and build a support structure in a new country – all while saving money.

“In some cultures parents are very focused on university admission; they don’t want their kids coming to us”

“To be able to get into a top university straight out of high school, the chances are slim,” she explained.

“So international students’ shouldn’t look at community colleges as last resort option, they should look at it as a pathway because by going to a community college that has university transfer agreements in place, the chances of getting accepted [into university] increases.”

“In some cultures, parents are very focused on university admission; they don’t want their kids coming to us because they are so focused on getting that letter of recommendation for a university,” said Jennifer Cheong, college counsellor at Branksome Hall Asia in South Korea.

Discussions around cross-cultural strategies for assisting international students with mental health concerns was another key topic that drew plenty of attention from both university reps and counsellors alike.

“Issues like depression, anxiety, and ADHD are increasingly prevalent, but students worldwide struggle to determine if they should disclose their mental health issues to colleges during the application process,” explained Eliza Plous, assistant director of Undergraduate Admission at Loyola University Chicago.

“These are trying times and students need the support of counsellors”

“What students say they want and what they would actually benefit from are often two very different things.”

“We need to teach students to be forthcoming and ask their counsellors what resources are available on a campus so they know they will get the support they need,” she concluded.

In addition to session offerings, the conference featured a series of  “Conference Chats”, shorter discussion-based presentations, similar to TED Talks, that touched on topics including  “What actually matters in the college experience” and “Helping Your Students Embrace the Unknown”.

Reflecting on the success of the 2018 conference, International ACAC president Aaron Andersen told The PIE that the Southern hospitality of New Orleans encouraged everyone to feel more relaxed and to get involved in networking events.

“It has been fantastic to see so much networking, ideas being exchanged and new partnerships being established between high schools and colleges,” he said.

“These are trying times for international education and students need the support of counsellors in schools, and independent counsellors, because they are the ones who can provide the most accurate information about new opportunities and ways of supporting students when accessing education abroad.”

The International ACAC 2019 conference will be hosted by Western University in Ontario, Canada.

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