COMING COMPETITION IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS

It’s been almost two years since the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division began an inquiry into the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) Code of Ethics. The Statement of Principles of Good Practice: Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (SPGP – CEPP) is followed by nearly 8000 NACAC members from colleges and universities. Among enrollment management professionals, the SPGP isn’t just a code of ethics. Instead, it’s a matrix upon which all of admissions operates, and there’s the rub. Is a system that’s arranged with as much pomp and circumstance as college admissions rigged to be anti-competitive? The Department of Justice seems to think so.

Earlier this week, NACAC’s Board of Directors recommended changing course to help the association avoid litigation and trial and to show good-faith and compliance with the DOJ investigation. In a memo to their Assembly leadership and delegates who will be meeting next month, NACAC’s Board and legal counsel recommended that delegates “seriously consider deleting statements within the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices assumed to violate antitrust laws.”

NACAC’s board is recommending that their leadership approve a motion to suspend procedural rules of the Assembly prohibiting amendments to the CEPP, except those recommended by their legal counsel.

Additionally, they’ve proposed a moratorium on enforcing the rules outlined in the of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices which govern everything from admissions cycle dates, deadlines and procedures to transfer admission and of course early and regular decision. According to NACAC, these are the four main areas that Department of Justice considers to be potentially anti-competitive under anti-trust laws .

Early Decision

NACAC’s guidelines have long prohibited colleges from offering special incentives to students applying or admitted for Early Decision. NACAC proposes removing language that would prohibit colleges from doing so, which in theory will allow colleges to lure students to their campus with offers of preferential housing, better financial aid packages and even special scholarships.

Responsible Practice of College Admission

NACAC member institutions have an agreement that they won’t poach each other’s students. Once a student has committed themselves to a college, institutions simply stop trying to recruit them. This has insulated colleges from competition by members. By striking this language from the CEPP, it seems that colleges may be able to recruit whomever they want , whenever they want, even before or after NACAC’s deadlines.

Admission Cycle Dates, Deadlines and Procedures for First-Time Fall Entry Undergraduates

May 1st is a big day in admissions. That’s when students are expected to commit to a college under regular decision and that’s also when college admission offices have to stop trying to recruit students who have committed to other institutions. NACAC is proposing to remove the language preventing colleges from trying to get students to change their college decision.

Transfer Admission

Under existing NACAC rules, colleges can’t contact applicants or prospective students from prior years unless that contact was initiated by the student themselves. This prevents colleges from recruiting transfer students. If the Assembly indeed votes to remove this provision, colleges will be able to contact students at other colleges and offer incentives for them to transfer.

It’s quite likely that NACAC’s Assembly leadership and delegates will adopt these changes when they meet next month and that means that college admissions is about to change.

Absent the protections provided by NACAC SPGP-CEPP institutions are going to have to work smarter, harder and most of all compete to attract students to their campus. What remains to be seen is whether these changes if adopted will appease the Department of Justice and what repercussions if any will be felt by individual institutions (or even individuals at institutions) who have operated under NACAC’s admissions principals.