Educational consulting

Scandal Aftermath: Regulation

In my last post, I discussed my fear that the SSD process would become even more difficult after the events of last week. When it comes to the next topic, I’m actually hoping for a much-needed change in an area that needs more oversight: the unregulated educational consulting industry. I touched on this a little bit when I was on Fox 5 on Tuesday night.

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I am normally not one for big government but I really believe that some sort of regulatory body for my industry is needed - badly. Ironically enough, I don’t think that the Rick Singer con-artist-types are the real problem in terms of preying on the public. Anyone working with him knew what he was doing and they knew what they were doing. Of course, it is completely unfair that those students were admitted over other qualified students, but I don’t think that Rick Singer’s behavior actually represents an enormous threat to the country at large from the college counseling community. Especially now, I would hope that parents and students would know better than to resort to fraud.

The much bigger problem, in my opinion, involves the consultants on the opposite end of the spectrum - the “I just got my child into UVA and now I’m qualified to provide this service to others” type. The numbers vary depending on the source, but when I started my business back in 2010, there were about 2,500 educational consultants nationwide. Now, that number approaches 15,000. That’s pretty incredible to consider.

Even so, only about 1,850 of those 15,000 belong to IECA, the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Why? Because IECA requires its members to be qualified. We have to visit a certain amount of schools, obtain graduate degrees in relevant fields, acquire years of experience, provide references, and agree to a code of ethics. On the other hand, the vast majority of America’s 15,000 educational consultants do not belong to any organization that requires its members to qualify for membership or abide by a set of best practices.

It’s very difficult for a consumer to differentiate between those with experience and those without, because a lot of college consultants embellish or even flat out lie about their background. There are local consultants right here in our area that have nonsense all over their websites. It kills me to see this. How is it that the local barber requires a license and education professionals do not? I really think it’s appalling.

Most don’t visit colleges, don’t pursue professional development and continuing education, and I would put money on it that some of them probably don’t even pay taxes on their income. I know that there are many hard-working families out there that end up falling for this and it really upsets me to see that happening. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And I truly say this out of concern for the general public, not because I am trying to cut down on the competition (I have a full client load each year and ultimately have to stop accepting clients during each application cycle, so I am not impacted by the hucksters from a business standpoint- I’m just embarrassed to be associated with them).

I implore families to ask potential consultants how many colleges they visit each year. Better yet, ask some detailed questions about those visits, or about educational sessions attended at recent conferences. Even if the regulations that I want aren’t possible in terms of exams, qualifications, or professional development, why can’t the educational consulting industry create a system similar to FINRA’s BrokerCheck? An easily accessible, mandatory background report of each consultant in the industry would give consumers the ability to separate the good from the bad.

I know I probably sound frustrated, but I am frustrated. These individuals are preying on innocent families and taking advantage of the overwhelming fear that parents and students feel about the college admissions landscape today. I realized last week that so many of the major players in the college admissions industry are right here in Northern Virginia (College Board in Reston, IECA in Fairfax, NACAC and Common App in Arlington) and I really believe that our local elected officials have a duty to start stepping in as a result. I am not a particularly political person, but I am going to make my voice heard on this!