No segment of our society is more appalled by the damage done to the reputation of the college admissions consulting field by recent scandals than those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to it. Independent Educational Consultants (IEC’S), also known as College Admissions Consultants, have had a shadow cast upon us by bad actors who have engaged in illegal conduct. Most college consultants are ethical, qualified experts upon whom students and families can rely for valuable service throughout the stressful and complex admissions process.
When the Varsity Blues scandal was reported a few months ago, we all saw an example of the worst that can happen in our profession. Federal indictments were issued against 53 individuals who participated in a scheme masterminded by an unethical consultant and abetted by his clients and a few college insiders. They gamed the system so that selective and highly selective institutions, from which the students might otherwise have been rejected, were defrauded into admitting them. Although such incidents are extremely rare, IEC’s have been in a defensive posture since the story broke.
Then, in July, just months after the news about Varsity Blues, ProPublica reported that another fraudulent scheme had been identified in Chicago. Parents, working with unethical IEC’s and other advisors, deluded public agencies and colleges in order to receive need-based scholarships to which they were not entitled. They accomplished this by assigning legal guardianship of their children late in high school to a relative or friend. “The new guardianship status then allowed the students to declare themselves financially independent of their families so they could qualify for federal, state and university aid.” according to the ProPublica article that broke the story.
There are two salient facts about higher education in 2019. First, admission to selective and highly selective institutions is extremely competitive, with less than 15 percent of applicants being accepted at the best-known schools. Second, tuition and fees are so high that they severely stress the budgets of many families who don’t qualify for need-based aid and cause many to go deeply into debt.
These conditions don’t come close to justifying the conduct noted above, but the temptation for unscrupulous college consultants and their clients to cut corners is obviously there. So, as a society, how can we avert a surge in such conduct in the future? The best answer to this question seems obvious. We should mandate the licensing of IEC’s!
Families need a standard to trust
Families need to trust in the integrity and expertise of IEC’s to guide them successfully through the maze of the admissions process. Parents will pay reasonable fees for guidance during this important transitional phase in their child’s education. They have a right to feel secure about the ethics and expertise of their chosen consultant.
Unfortunately, the status quo in the IEC field is that anyone, anywhere can set up a website, print business cards and brochures, and recruit clients for college admissions and admission-related services. It doesn’t matter if their credentials and experience are inappropriate. It only matters that they can convince prospective clients that they’re qualified.
Let’s put this in perspective. Below in Table A is a sample list of professions that require a license to be issued directly or indirectly by a public agency in order for individuals to offer their services to the public.
Table A: Professions Requiring a License in Order to Practice
Medical Doctor Building Contractor Public Accountant
Registered Nurse Cosmetologist Practical Nurse
Pharmacist Barbers Physical Therapist
Attorney Electrician HVAC Mechanic
Dentist Plumbers Tractor-Trailer Driver
Teacher Clinical Psychologist Real Estate Broker/Agent
Veterinarian Paralegal Financial Advisor/Stockbroker
Land Surveyor Medical Lab Technician Hairdresser
Civil Engineer Massage Therapist Home Inspectors/Engineer
Manicurist Pipefitter/Steamfitter Pharmacy Technician
Acupuncturist Radiologic Technician Occupational Therapist
School Bus Driver Chiropractor Dental Hygienist/Assistant
Court Reporter Private Detective Veterinary Technician
Professions requiring a license include some that you interact with frequently and others most people need only rarely, if ever. Whenever you may need them, you’re safe to assume that people in these professions are qualified by the fact that they’ve met the requirements to be licensed. According to a study conducted by The Brookings Institute, nearly 30 percent of people now working in the United States require a license in order to perform their jobs.
Look for professional memberships
Families are forced to use other means to assess the ethics and qualifications of an IEC in the absence of a license. Membership in one or more of the three largest professional associations is an important indicator. These are the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). These associations are communities of scrupulous IEC professionals who have established ethical standards that members must practice. Details can be found here: NACAC, IECA, HECA.
Since membership in these associations is voluntary, and IECs can legally work without being part of any organization offering oversight, we reiterate that IEC’s should require a license. Since most IEC’s operate in multiple states through the Internet, a Federal agency, in consultation with the organizations listed above, is the most appropriate licensor. At the very least, state-by-state licensure would let consumers know that the individual has met certain criteria.
In a future post, we’ll outline the steps that can be taken by interested parties to promote a licensing requirement for IEC’s along the lines of the requirements for financial advisors.
Colleges and universities are reexamining their current admissions practices to remedy flaws that make them susceptible to fraud. Meanwhile, our focus at Klaar College Consulting is to make you, as parents and students, fully aware of the strict ethics of our approach to college admissions consulting services and our qualifications to help you succeed in accomplishing your educational goals.