Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NACAC and Student Scams

To the NACAC EList:

Yesterday, I was driving and saw the car in front of me with a bumper sticker that said that the driver's child was a member of the National Society of HIgh School Scholars (many of you all probably have brought home one of their teddy bears to your kids after a national conference).  This is another Vanity Press/Award organization that charges fees to join and do things like get your picture in a book, buy a book, etc.  My naive first response was "what's the harm".  So the family has to pay $60+ for really nothing, but they are happily deluded that their child, who has not received much recognition in life, is being mysteriously honored?  Well, upon further thought, I began thinking, yeah, there is real harm in this.  It is presenting something as an honor that isn't, is taking people's hard earned money in a disingenuous manner and we are not only accepting this, but promoting it?  We, promoting it?  Well, look at this response that was written to College Confidential from the NSHSS:  "NSHSS is affiliated with counselor associations, scholarship programs, higher education institutions and international school associations. Our partners include Abercrombie & Fitch, AFLAC, Alzheimer’s Association, the National Society for the Gifted and Talented, and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Some of our collaborating universities include Spelman College, UC - San Diego, and Purdue University."  

They are vendors at the National Conference, I know, but are they really "affiliated" with NACAC?  If so, this is really a problem.  If not, shouldn't NACAC be putting out a cease and desist order in using the organization this way.  Similarly, NRCCUA/My College Options is also an organization that is not straightforward in their methods (see http://scottwhitesworld.blogspot.com/2007/05/nrccua-nrccua-was-subject-to-major.html for a discussion of this) yet their executive director, Don Munce, moderated a panel at the last NACAC Conference and they also promote their connection to NACAC.  

Maybe this is something that NACAC should really be taking a look at.  I am not saying that we as an organization are actively promoting groups which take advantage of students and I am not suggesting that we ban these groups from participating as exhibitors at our national conference.  But perhaps a committee should be put together to look at the relationship between these groups and the national association and we should do more to educate our members and communicate with students about groups that are not straightforward on how they operate and what they offer to students.  

We should take a hard look at the whole business of organizations profiting through the use of deceptive practices using unsolicited mail and email to profit off our students, frequently those students who can least afford it.  This would include all the "scholarship search" services that charge huge fees, etc.  I know there have been numerous reports from NACAC on this issue, but I don't think that there is a unified response to this.  And it is not black and white.  While some groups are clearly deceptive and dishonest, some are more disingenuous.  

My suggestion is not that we ban every group from a connection to NACAC who profits off of kids by feeding off the college admissions frenzy (the exhibit hall would be empty if we did this), but that we are more self-conscious and self-reflective of what we do.  Perhaps a sub-committee of the Admissions Practices Committee can develop clearer guidelines and provide more useful communication on groups that are not honest or straightforward in their practices.  Perhaps we should look at promoting legislation that prevents organizations from using language that is deceptive.  Absent that, maybe the organization should have minimal standards for groups that promote services to our counselors, either through the exhibit hall, in conference sessions, advertising in our publications or sponsoring NACAC events.  

This is something we can and should do.  This flood of deceptive mail and e-mails is not abating, it is growing by the day.  Can we put a stop to it?  Absolutely not.  But we can take a much more active roll in examining our part in this and make sure we are not explicitly or implicitly endorsing and promoting groups who do not serve our students' best interests.

Joyce and members of the e-list:

Joyce, thanks for your posting.  I think it does clarify NACAC's relationship with these organizations.  Like the SPGP, there are mandatory actions and best practices.  I would agree that NACAC is fully abiding by the former but could be doing significantly more in the latter.  I'll try to be more specific about my concerns:

*I have had numerous low income kids come in this year who have paid money to organizations that purport to be honors when they are not, NHSSS among them.  Perhaps a committee could look into exactly what students are receiving and decide whether it is transparent, deceptive or dishonest.  If it is either of the latter two, the organization can be asked to work with NACAC to be more transparent on how the students was selected and what the advantages of membership are.

*The "invitations" to summer programs are similarly problematic.  Just yesterday a staff member came to me with a letter asking them to nominate students for the National Student Leadership Program.  There was no mention anywhere that there was a substantial cost for this program.  The teacher thought that they were choosing a student for an award rather than providing a name for solicitation to an expensive summer program.  The student then receives an embossed certificate stating they have been "selected" for this honor, when in fact, they used a deceptive technique to get the names for this program.

*NRCCUA is not alone in sending out surveys with buried small print that says what the surveys are for.  They almost always send them to the superintendent with no mention in the cover letter that they collect and sell student names.  These are passed onto guidance directors who think they must comply because it came from the superintendent.  

These are not evil organizations that are out to harm students and their net effects may be positive.  But their marketing techniques are highly questionable and it would behoove the organization to take an active role in improving this.

1 comment:

British Princess said...

After having read the post, all that I can do now is hope that NASAC isn’t only a scam. I hope that all the campaign that are done to inspire and motivate the students really work. Our kids are not guinea pigs. They deserve a better education, they deserve to know everything there is about the real world in order to be ready for the challenges it holds before. My kids, for example, need to know about the essays writing online because I see that a very important skill that will be required in the future.