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Admissions Official and Consultant -- at the Same Time

February 1, 2008

Some in college admissions worry about a "revolving door" ethics problem in which officials of top colleges leave their positions to set up or join companies that advise students and families on how to get into college.

At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a senior admissions official didn't quit; she set up a consulting business for applicants while working in admissions at Penn. Judith S. Hodara even noted her Wharton job title (senior associate director of admissions for the M.B.A. program) on the Web site of her company, IvyStone Educational Consultants.

On Thursday, shortly after receiving a voicemail and e-mail from a reporter about her consulting job, Hodara took down her company's Web site. Later Thursday, Penn released a statement: "This matter came to our attention yesterday and we have since reviewed the situation. In order to avoid even an appearance of conflict of interest, Ms. Hodara has resigned from all outside consulting activities."

Asked if Penn considered the arrangement appropriate, a university spokeswoman said via e-mail: "Penn does not consider this type of situation to be appropriate, which is why it has been ended."

Penn officials and Hodara did not respond to questions about whether IvyStone clients ever applied to Penn.

For Hodara, this is the second gig outside of Penn she gave up this week. After Inside Higher Ed reported that she had been serving on an advisory board for a company in Japan that is paid by clients to help them win admission into top M.B.A. programs in the United States, she resigned from that position. In a statement, she said: "Since accepting this position, I've done no work with the company, I have attended no meetings, and I have received no compensation. To avoid the appearance of any possible conflict of interest I've resigned from the committee effective immediately."

Earlier, she had defended her role on the company as ethical because she was not involved in counseling clients, only providing advice to company employees who did so.

IvyStone, however, offered services that were direct consulting. While Hodara took down the company's Web site, archived versions of it are available online through the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and show that the company offered counseling on a per-visit arrangement up through a three-year package, that counseling covered developing a list of colleges, planning for campus visits, simulated admissions interviews, and help to "present the 'best you' there is." Material on the company's Web site as of Thursday morning noted that Hodara had previously worked in undergraduate admissions at Penn.

"I have first-hand admissions experience as Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania where I read and counseled more than 10,000 applicants, both from the U.S. and abroad. I am currently a Senior Associate Director of Admissions at the Wharton School M.B.A. Program, and I also maintain a strong pulse on the undergraduate process," said Hodara in a Q&A posted on the company's Web site.

Lloyd Thacker, founder of the Education Conservancy, a group committed to reforming college admissions, said he was shocked to hear that an admissions officer had a consulting business for applicants on the side. "I would hope anybody in the profession would say that this is unethical, wrong and should not happen," he said.

There is no evidence that Hodara in any way hid her outside activities. In a biography for a podcast, she noted both her Wharton job and her business.

Thacker said that the situation leaves him with many questions: "Why didn't the college know about her doing business on the side. If people did know, why didn't the college do something about it?"

 

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