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WINTER 2012 JOURNAL OF COLLEGE ADMISSION | 101W W W. N A C A C N E T. O R G

W
hen one thinks of seminal publi-

cations in college admission, the

first piece that comes to mind is

B. Alden Thresher’s College Admissions in

the Public Interest (1966). Thresher’s work,

relevant to this day, is credited with being

the foundational document of the admission

profession. It identified college admission

as “ The Great Sorting”; it identified the

social and cultural determinants of college

aspirations and placement; it called for in-

telligent analysis of the impact of our work

on the larger society; it identified maximiza-

tion of prestige as a motivator for students

and institutions; and it called for thoughtful

and aware practitioners of the profession.

McDonough and Robertson’s 1995 study,

commissioned by NACAC, traces the rise of

the profession that Thresher is credited with

creating. Like Thresher, the social and edu-

cational values that are the underpinnings

of college admission inform the analysis and

provide a productive backdrop against which

to identify a profession grappling with growth

and change. Viewed in time, this study en-

compasses roughly two-thirds of the history

of the profession, 29 years after its founda-

tion (Thresher in 1966) and 16 years prior

to today (2011). One could argue, though,

that the pace of change has accelerated so

quickly in the past 16 years, that it may be

more accurate to see McDonough/Robertson

as a view at the midpoint. Either way, it is re-

markable to look at their work again today in

view of what it found, how it identified emer-

gent trends, and what it asks the profession

to consider in the face of challenges to its

educational purposes.

In their study, we find that a profession of full-

time administrators with distinctive responsi-

bilities has risen from a part-time faculty or

registrar’s role. In other words, we find the

emergence of a distinct profession, oftentimes

home grown within the admission staff or

recruited from admission offices elsewhere.

Alongside this, we note that the seeds of a

new organizing concept, enrollment manage-

ment, have begun to take root in colleges and

universities. We also observe the morphing of

an educational role to a marketing function.

Indeed, McDonough and Robertson docu-

ment what so many of today’s admission

professionals feel, from the counselor

to the dean; namely, their movement as

professionals from educator to marketer.

Respondents to their study demonstrate

that the marketing course becomes pre-

ferred to the counseling course or to one

in measurement and statistics for pur-

poses of practical preparation. Pressures

for enrollment productivity in the face of

demographic change and institutional

ambition emerge. Recruitment becomes

the name of the game, giving rise to com-

mercial entities for test preparation and

publication of guidebooks. Moreover, the

change in admission drives a change in stu-

dent behavior. Well-situated students now

engage private consultants to craft a college

search and hone an application. Students

and institutions now market themselves.

Today’s observers will note that fully-blown

enrollment management operations have

since emerged and that ever-increasing pres-

sures on metrics, such as the number of

admission applications, admission rates and

test score averages, are the prevalent mea-

suring sticks for admission success. They

may also note the shifting demographic land-

scape and ask, “What does all this have to do

with helping students understand the prepa-

ration they need, how to select and apply for

a college, and how to take responsibility for

their personal growth?” Quite frankly, we can

hope that the work has something to do with

these educationally sound and fundamental

purposes. Yet, it is clear that swinging the

pendulum back toward educational purpose

is on the minds of practitioners.

Indeed, in 1995 McDonough and Robert-

son called for a reasonable and practical

change by proposing a hybrid—a blended

position of marketer and educator. What

was their justification? They saw that the

dearth of college counseling in America’s

high schools meant that students must rely

on the college admission staff above others

for the critical information about transition

from high school to college. These condi-

tions have not changed, unless we admit

that we have ceded much of this respon-

sibility to commercial entities or to no one

at all. Additionally, the authors called for

greater development of junior admission

professionals to create the future leaders in

the field and to increase the penetration of

women and minorities in leadership roles.

Tellingly, the NACAC 2011 National Con-

ference convention hall was laden with

sessions devoted to the issues that were

illuminated by McDonough and Robertson.

We often find ourselves marveling at the

prescience of Thresher’s timeless docu-

ment, and justifiably so. Yet, McDonough

and Robertson are prescient in their own

way. The value of good research and cogent

analysis cannot be understated. May we

hear the call and act accordingly.

Seeking the Admission Hybrid
Response to “Gatekeepers or Marketers: Reclaiming the Educational Role of Chief Admission Officers” on page 92

by Jerome A. Lucido

JeRome a. lucido is professor
of research, executive
director of the USC Center for
Enrollment Research, Policy,
and Practice, and Special
Advisor to the Provost at
the University of Southern
California (CA). He holds a
Ph.D. in higher education from

the University of Arizona, an M.S. in education from Kent
State (OH), and a B.S. degree in business administration
from Miami University of Ohio (OH).

RESPONSE

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