Lessons Drawn from Meetings with College Guidance Counselors

CIC membership directory book coverTo provide information about CIC member colleges and universities and the value of the liberal arts to prospective students and their families, CIC has actively engaged college guidance counselors for several years. Most recently, S. Georgia Nugent, CIC senior fellow and president emerita of Kenyon College (OH), and Laura Wilcox, CIC senior advisor for communications, participated in the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) Fall 2017 Conference in Washington, DC. CIC has sponsored and Nugent has spoken at earlier IECA and National Association for College Admission Counseling conferences. She also spoke about the benefits of a liberal arts education at the annual meeting of the Higher Education Consultants Association in June 2017 and at the Heick Symposium on College Admissions at Randolph College (VA) in November.

CIC’s experience in meeting and talking with college counselors in these multiple venues was consistent. “First,” Nugent said, “we found that the counselors have a positive perception of independent higher education and CIC colleges. They are eager to promote our colleges and universities to their client families, and many counselors shared how much they value our institutions for their own children’s education. They are cognizant of the long-term benefits and the pathway to success that independent higher education offers.”

The counselors, however, also expressed their difficulty convincing families of the value of the independent college sector. “Concerns about cost—whether realistic or not—are an issue. This comes as no surprise, given the widespread misunderstanding among the public about college costs and the availability of financial aid,” Nugent said. In addition to this pragmatic concern, counselors frequently mentioned a more perception-driven issue. “As they described it, their clients want ‘name recognition on a T-shirt.’ Especially in the Midwest, they told us, this may mean that the aspirations of students and their families often center on attending a well-known football university.” The lure of “big-time” athletics also is a factor elsewhere. In addition, Nugent said, “young men, in particular, tend to believe that they will make more friends at large universities—while alumni surveys indicate that the community atmosphere of small colleges is more likely to lead to widespread and lifelong friendships.”

Counselors also told CIC staff that parents and students are often unclear about the curriculum offered by small private colleges. Or even if they are aware of the majors and courses offered, they fail to see the connection to post-graduation pathways. For example, if a course or major does not carry the label “Business Ed,” parents who hope for business careers for their children may be skeptical that, say, economics courses could contribute meaningfully to their children’s career success.

CIC’s greatest take-away from this outreach is guidance counselors’ need and appreciation for the information and materials CIC provides. Originally produced for CIC’s Securing America’s Future initiative, which in part provided accurate and compelling information about the value of the liberal arts and independent higher education, CIC distributes posters, flyers, and booklets to counselors that highlight the strengths of small private colleges and universities. The materials emphasize that CIC institutions are accessible, affordable, and diverse; foster degree completion; provide valuable learning; and lead to post-graduation success. Frequently, counselors are surprised by the data.

“Interestingly, an especially popular item among our informational materials is a compact booklet that simply lists CIC member colleges by state (along with a map showing the locations of CIC institutions across the country and attractive photos from member campuses). These have been ordered again and again, often in bulk,” Wilcox remarked. This seems to indicate that even the most basic information, such as the full roster of CIC colleges, is valued by college counselors to help them “make the case” with the young people who could become the future students at CIC colleges and universities.