X
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to use this website, you consent to our use of these cookies.
Academics
Middle School
Exploration Courses

2019 College Admission Influencers

Brennan Barnard
As the end of December nears, it is that moment when we take stock of the year that was. Time publishes the Person of the Year (you go Greta) and Oxford Dictionary identifies the Word of the Year (in 2019 it is the phrase “climate emergency”...I sense a trend). Meanwhile, there is no shortage of “best of” lists, including top stories, photos, songs, and movies. As we review the year, we ask what changed and who made it happen? There is no debating that 2019 was a rollercoaster of news, scandals, lawsuits, and controversy in college admission, but who were the most influential people in the field?

In the age of social media, the term “influencer” has risen to new heights. They are the individuals with huge online followings, and when they use a product or give an endorsement, people take notice. It could be a vlogger, a blogger or simply an Instagram “celebrity.” Often with millions of followers, they set trends and therefore sell “merch” through branding deals with companies large and small. In fact, according to an international report from January 2018, becoming a social media celebrity is one of the top four career dreams of children ages 7 to 11 worldwide (perhaps a popular college major in our future). These are the young people who will be applying to college in 5 to 10 years and it is no surprise that this influencer phenomenon has infiltrated college admission. A growing number of colleges and universities are partnering with student influencers to sponsor content on YouTube and other platforms as part of their school's marketing strategies in admission. They are selling the “merch” of a college degree.

I took to social media, and a wide network of college admission professionals on Facebook and Twitter to crowdsource a list of the most influential people in the admission field this year. The consensus is that there is not—and should not be—a consensus. The responses were telling in their diversity and reasoning. And while the results did not justify a top ten list of influencers, they did reveal some interesting themes and categories of people who have impacted college admission in 2019, in ways that are both overt and more subtle.

Policy Makers
Our nation’s leaders, including President Trump, Secretary of Education DeVos, and legislators in the House and Senate, inform the environment within which colleges and universities operate. From college affordability to immigration to labor laws, the administration’s policies have influenced many admission trends and practices, while raising issues of access and equity in higher education. Survey responses pointed toward these policies, and the multiple Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations into fraud and antitrust violations in college admission as key influences in the field this past year. One comment explained that “the DOJ forever changed the ‘game’ of higher education enrollment and NOT necessarily for the better,” adding, “there are many unintended consequences on our profession, that many students will have to endure before things get fixed.” State legislators were also identified as important influencers in college admission, as they hold the purse strings to funding for public universities, which in many states are unconscionably under-resourced.

Organizational Leaders
There are immense structures and systems within which access to higher education is regulated and facilitated. Professional associations, non-profit entities, and other educational organizations provide a framework for admission work. Additionally, there is what is often referred to as the College Admission Industrial Complex, an ever-growing entrepreneurial sector within the field. The heads of many of these organizations and companies were referenced as influencers this year. Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of the Common Application, was one of these leaders referenced most frequently because of the joy with which she approaches her work and her deep belief in “the transformative effect that higher education has on individuals and our society.” Another high profile influencer is Akil Bello, the founder and former CEO of Bell Curves a company whose mission is to “provide high-quality test preparation and educational services, especially to underserved and disadvantaged communities.” Bello is now a consultant in the admission industry, using his influence to increase access for under-resourced students and to bring awareness to issues of inequity in testing and other aspects of admission. Speaking of testing, Adam Ingersoll is a founder and principal at Compass Education, a standardized test preparation company and was identified by several respondents as a data-driven, vocal advocate for students, holding the College Board and ACT accountable for issues around testing. Perhaps one of the greatest leaders organizational leaders this year was Stefanie Niles, the vice president for enrollment and communications at Ohio Wesleyan University and the immediate past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). She was nominated as an influencer because of the grace with which she guided the Association through unanticipated scrutiny and press in 2019.

The Media
Media coverage of admission often drives the conversation, culture, and hype surrounding searching for and applying to college. While some content feeds the anxiety and the singular focus on highly selective admission, other writers and journalists have sought to cover this area of education more thoughtfully and intentionally that explores important issues from many angles. Eric Hoover of the Chronicle of Higher Education is perhaps one of the most significant influencers and as a survey respondent explained, “His reporting on admission, is honest, fair, and relevant. He cares deeply about equity and social justice, and works tirelessly to be a voice for oppressed students.” Scott Jaschik one of the founders and editor of Inside Higher Ed (IHE) is another name that surfaced due to his consistent and balanced coverage of admission news and opinion. Speaking of opinions, Jim Jump, the academic dean and director of college counseling at St. Christopher's School in Richmond, Virginia was nominated as an influencer for his writing in the Ethical College Admissions blog. Jump is also a past president of NACAC and he continues to address important issues in the field. He is joined by Jeff Schiffman, director of admission at Tulane University and Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech who both have thoughtful and often entertaining blogs. Other writers whose voices made an impact this year were Jeff Selingo of The Atlantic and Melissa Korn of the Washington Post. Perhaps the most talked-about author in college admission in 2019 was Paul Tough whose book The Years That Matter Most explores important issues of equity and social mobility in admission and higher education. And sadly, as many survey responses indicated, we would be remiss not to mention the influence of Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman because of their celebrity, media attention, and its impact on their Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. Enough said.

Researchers & Activists
There is exciting research into higher education and admission happening at institutions throughout the country. Jerry Lucido and Julie Posselt from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, OiYan Poon, director of the Race and Intersectional Studies for Education Equity (RISE) Center at Colorado State University, Richard Weissbourd, faculty director of the Making Caring Common Project (MCC) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Karina Salazar at the College of Education at The University of Arizona were all nominated as influencers in 2019. Each, in their way, is turning a critical eye to the policies and practices in admission and encouraging educators to consider new approaches and to challenge long-standing structures. Other nominees included activists Marie Bigham, Steve Frappier, and Brandi Smith the founders of Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today (ACCEPT), a Facebook group dedicated to equity, anti-racism, and justice in college admission.

High Profile Admission Deans
There are leaders within the college admission profession who, because of the good work they do and their insight into the field, get the most airtime. They are familiar names to those working in admission and often quoted for good reason. In fact, in my coverage of college admission, I often rely on the wisdom of many of these esteemed educators. Angel Pérezvice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College emerged in the survey as the greatest influencer in admission in 2019. One comment says it best: “Angel is moving the entire nation towards a more equitable and just system through the work on his campus, his advocacy on the national stage, and his willingness to speak out on controversial issues that most people in his position wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole!” Pérez is also chairing the NACAC Ad Hoc Committee on Leadership in College Admission, which is “charged with tackling core questions to help strengthen the profession moving forward as it considers ways to reinvent the college admission process with an emphasis on accessible, equitable, and affordable post-secondary education. Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost of enrollment management at Oregon State University is another leader whose blog and astute and witty unpacking of admission data provides a wonderful context for the work of admission deans. Joy St. John, dean of admission and financial aid at Wellesley College is an admission superstar who is described as “an honest, direct, smart leader who can hold court in small and big settings.” Jonathan Burdick, who left the University of Rochester in 2019 to begin as Cornell University’s vice provost for enrollment, also received multiple nominations. One nominator explained that “Jonathan has been involved in key leadership groups and always held access and equity issues front-and-center in that work, doing his best to hold those organizations accountable,” adding, “if we could clone Jonathan and sprinkle him across a dozen or so influential universities' leadership positions we could fundamentally change the industry and its practices for the better.” Rachel Hernandez, the senior vice provost for enrollment management at The University of Texas at Austin rounds out these nominees, described as “as a force within the profession.” One response explains that “her work at UT Austin has changed the course of students’ lives. She has laid the foundation for the success of those who will come behind her.” 

Unsung Heros
Perhaps the most important influencers are the educators who are so deep in the trenches that they often go unnoticed, but their impact is undeniable as their work touches countless students, families, and educators. What follows is a small sample of these individuals and the reason they were nominated:

Reynolda Brown, dean of enrollment management at Harris-Stowe State University 
“Mr. Brown is a talented admissions and enrollment management professional. He can join a university family and offer unique and innovative tactics to increase recruitment and retention. He has a wide range of experiences and is a true advocate for HBCUs and the professional development of his staff.”

Nikki Chun, director of undergraduate admission at Caltech
“She prompts discussion through thought-provoking questions that challenge our assumptions and provides support and guidance to women in our profession. She has fostered connection and encouraged women to pursue leadership in our institutions and our organizations.”

Elizabeth Creighton, dean of admission and financial aid at Williams College
“As the first-ever Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Liz has moved Williams College past considering the cost of attendance to covering the cost of thriving. While Williams is better funded than most colleges, even there she had to make the tough decision: follow the crowd and go no loan or depart from the crowd and cover a host of things (health care, an emergency fund for coats/boots, thesis costs, books, etc)? She went with the latter, and students are now able to navigate their way through 4 years without having to disclose their financial situation again and again.”

Stephanie Espina, director of undergraduate admissions at Adelphi University
“Stephanie is actively involved in student mentoring and community service as a member of the Junior League of Long Island and through the Nassau County Office of Human Rights Commission. Throughout her career in higher education, Stephanie has been a role model for young professionals. In 2019, she was recognized with the ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award and the Long Island Business News Executive Circle Award for her accomplishments. It is important to recognize motivated, young, and diverse leaders in higher education - Stephanie is certainly one of them!”

Manicia Finch, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at Southern University Agricultural and Mechanical College 
“Exemplary leadership and service in college admissions with a commitment to student matriculation from entry to exit. She is nurturing and supportive of parent anxiety throughout the enrollment and payment process and knows how to have students connect successfully with the college environment.”

Demetra Durham, college and career coordinator at L.V. Berkner High School
“She is the sole college and career counselor at a school in a Dallas suburb. Her caseload is over 2,000 students across multiple grade levels, and she has managed to have a nearly 100% college application completion rate for her seniors by mid-year.”

Michael Keaton, dean of undergraduate admission at Drexel University
“He has worked on both sides of the desk and is bold in his willingness to point out our industry’s flaws and strengths.”

Jeannine Lalonde, associate dean of admission at The University of Virginia
“ She continues to be a model of how admission offices can communicate authentically and meet students where they are online and in-person.”

Ashley Pallie, associate dean of admission at Pomona College
“Ashley is an amazing advocate for equity in admissions and she is making her profession better by sharing her wisdom and insights.” 

Adrienne Amador Oddi, dean of admission at Trinity College
“Always willing to challenge the status quo, she reminds us that we must bring awareness to the voices in the admission profession, and society at large, who are often unheard.”

Aaron Salasek, director of outreach and recruitment at Inver Hills Community College
“He is leading the National Admissions Practices committee through a difficult time. Has a surprising amount of grace and dignity as we work through these problems.”

There are hosts of others who are also making a difference in the admission profession and lives of applicants. From the high school counselor working in a large public district with a caseload of over 450 students to the admission dean who spends their entire fall traveling the nation to identify students with potential who might not otherwise gain access to higher education. Their tireless efforts create ripples of influence that warrant appreciation as we look back at 2019.

Who have been the most influential people in your life this year? Perhaps it is a musician, writer, politician or activist. Instead, maybe your influencer is closer to home; a teacher, family member, or friend. Has the influence been positive or negative? What have you learned from this individual? How have you influenced others? As we flip the page to a new year, it is worthwhile to consider these questions and express gratitude for those who have touched your life. Take the time to reach out to the people who have changed you, stretched you, and made you think. Your simple words can go a long way in encouraging them to continue their important work and reaching an even broader audience. In the year ahead, who will you involve in your life or look to for guidance? Who will you influence and how will you intentionally seek to have an impact on your family, work, community, and world? Together, we can make an impact—one person at a time.

Brennan Barnard
Director of College Counseling & Outreach, The Derryfield School
College Admission Program Manager, Harvard Graduate School of Education's Making Caring Common Project
for www.forbes.com
Back
No comments have been posted

The Derryfield School

2108 River Road, Manchester, NH 03104     p: 603.669.4524     f: 603.625.9715