Last week, we had the opportunity to attend the 74th annual NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) 2018 Conference in beautiful Salt Lake City, UT. The focus of the conference was connecting professionals who are tasked with creating the appropriate bridge for students to enroll in the right academic program for them, whether that is coming from high school, an adult who is embarking on their first time in college, or a returning adult. A lot of the talk around the conference floor was around how colleges can attract and retain the right students for them, the changing student demographic, and associated expectations of today’s students (and their parents.) The growing importance of the role of transfer students and the value of a college degree were also top of mind for most institutions.
The buzz in the booth was that the attendees were really enjoying the sessions and networking opportunities. About 6,100 attendees made it out to Salt Lake from high schools, non-profits, and the broader higher education community. Danielle Yepa Gunderson, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of OK and a NACAC member, kicked off the conference with a land acknowledgment. You may be, as I was, unfamiliar with this tradition but it is in alignment with the core values and ethic of NACAC, emphasizing fairness and equity. The ritual recognizes and honors the land where the conference is taking place, all its history, and the sacrifice of all those who made it possible. It set a really beautiful tone at the start of the conference to help remind all of us why we’re here, why we work in the jobs we do, and the long-term impact and importance of what we do.
Immediately following, David Burge (from George Mason University, Immediate Past President of NACAC and HelioCampus client) kicked us off and set the tone for the next 3 days. Quoting Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan (Star Wars) David shared, “We have everything we need,” which reminded me of the fundamental challenge facing many of the professionals tasked with helping students and prospective students navigating their path to an education: all the data is there, but due to its sheer volume, and the volume of daily work, it’s nearly impossible to use it effectively to achieve the stated mission. Even when those that need it have access to the data, the opportunities to use it to discuss strategically who they want to become or how they want to evolve to become better is elusive. We are all in this together, and only together can we move closer to educating our entire population. Access, equity, college affordability, outcomes, and helping students identify their right path is where we can focus, and ultimately make a positive difference.
Overall, it was great to spend 3 days among the thousands of passionate professionals who all seemed genuinely concerned with individual and professional growth so they can better serve the students who need their help. Whether that is technology, services, learning, discussions, or a general session, it seems to have been served up well at NACAC 2018.