Many admissions officials were aghast in February to find out that some private admissions consultants -- people paid by parents to navigate the college admissions process for their children -- were also holding paid jobs with colleges or high schools. The situation -- which other admissions officials said was an open secret -- came to light when Inside Higher Ed reported on a University of Pennsylvania admissions official who had ties to a Japanese company that helped business school applicants and who ran her own admissions business. (The Penn official has since eliminated both of those non-Penn ties.)
This weekend, the board of the National Association for College Admission Counseling voted to create a special working group that will examine conflict of interest issues in the profession with the goal of providing guidance on the issues.
David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for NACAC, said that board members wanted to provide good advice to the profession while also recognizing the role of employers. "They didn't want to cross boundaries that were the domain of employee-employer relations," he said.
While the study was prompted by the issue of private counselors, other conflict of interest issues will be examined, such as questions about any benefits some colleges provide to high school counselors whom they want to recommend their institutions. Hawkins said that board wants to develop policies that would deal "not just with actual conflicts of interest, but the perception of conflicts of interest."
Since discussion of the conflict of interest issue has built in the last month, some admissions experts have been saying that they hoped NACAC could provide guidance. To date, most private counselors have said that they follow the ethics rules of their association, the Independent Educational Counselors Association.
The association’s “Principles of Good Practice” state that “multiple relationships” -- in which a counselor also works for a school or college or related program -- “may relate or appear to create a conflict of interest.” The principles say that members must take steps to avoid such conflicts, and it specifically states that members must inform clients of their range of activities. But the principles do not bar such dual relationships -- and the reporting requirements suggest a belief that these dual relationships can be managed. Members of the private counselors group could not be reached Sunday for reaction to NACAC's action.
The NACAC board members who are studying the issue are counselors either in high schools or colleges. The committee hopes to report back to the board in June.