The NAC at NACAC: Sharing the NAC’s Role within an Educational Village on a National Stage
Today, there’s a greater recognition of how the work that community-based organizations (CBOs) like the Nicholas Academic Centers have contributed to the number of students who now attend colleges and universities across the United States. The layered approach, combining academic services, personal and familial counseling, as well as cultural and college access services creates an ideal situation for students intent on pursuing higher education. The positive impact of CBOs like the Nicholas Academic Centers has not been lost on the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), who hosts an annual 3-day conference and college access fair that brings together college & high school counselors, CBOs, independent counselors & academic businesses.
This year, the NAC put together a team to present at the NACAC conference in Denver, Colorado. Rosa Diaz, NAC Director of Operations, and Janae Dimick, NAC Director of Higher Education Services, joined Andre McWell, Director of Student Success at Morningside College in Iowa, Gerry Oxx, Guidance Counselor at Godinez Fundamental High School in Santa Ana, and Clint Gasaway, Director of Financial Aid at Wabash College in Indiana, to discuss how the NAC operates within a larger educational community, and how its approach has helped increase college retention of the first generation Latino students it services. “One of the goals of presenting at NACAC,” notes Janae, “was to share how our partnerships have helped us ensure & improve retention of multicultural, first-generation college students.” In addition, the presentation was designed to help create partnerships between the NAC and other CBOs, high schools, and colleges.
The NAC team was scheduled to present during the opening time slot on the first day of the conference, alongside several other presentations. Because it was the first day of presentations, they did not know what to expect attendance-wise; in fact, fifteen minutes before the presentation, there were only a dozen or so people sitting in the seats. When the time came to begin the presentation, several hundred people had filled the seats. Rosa notes, “The conference offered the opportunity to highlight the success of the NAC on a national stage, and really look at the Nicholas Academic Centers as a case study that others could possibly emulate, looking at the way that we do business, the way we look at our students in a holistic manner, and the manner in which we reach out to partners in high schools and colleges.” The idea was to present the Nicholas Academic Centers as a “best practice” model.
During the presentation, Rosa and Janae shared Judge Jack K. Mandel’s story and how he came to partner with Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III in 2008. In addition to covering NAC stats and stories, the panel focused on the NAC’s partnerships with high schools and colleges. One of the most important partnerships the NAC has made is with high school counselors.
According to a report on Counseling.org, California boasts one of the highest counselor-to-student ratios in the nation. The NAC in several respects serves as a continuation of the hard work that guidance counselors like Gerry Oxx, counselor at Godinez Fundamental High School in Santa Ana, do on a daily basis. Gerry has been very supportive of the NAC. “I think the NAC has proven to be the gem of a collaboration of this type. Through my close association, I have been able to foster relationships with college admissions reps that I would not have necessarily had the opportunity to work with. And, my continual communication with NAC personnel has strengthened my belief in what the NAC is trying to produce with our students.” Gerry adds, “[The NAC] is an enhancement – it takes a village and all parties involved with each student need to play an active role in that student’s life.”
To represent the college viewpoint, Andre McWell, the Director of Student Success at Morningside College in Iowa, shared his experience working with the NAC. “I saw my role as giving the audience that attended our seminar a look at what we do at Morningside College to assure that the students we recruited from the NAC continue down the road to success that was created for them while they attended the NAC in high school.” Andre also talked about how he believes other colleges can benefit from partnering with CBOs like the NAC. “For the colleges that get these students, it makes the campus communities so much more diverse, not because of race or color, but because these students come from a different part of the U.S. So our relationships must continue to grow because in the end everyone involved wins.”
Toward the end of the presentation, people had more questions than could be answered in the allotted time. This opened an opportunity for the NAC panelists to meet and connect with interested parties afterward. Smiling, Rosa says, “It was neat, because after the presentation we were mobbed. We talked to reps from Transylvania University [in Lexington, Kentucky] and Pomona College [in Pomona].” Janae adds, “As well as the United States Naval Academy, which is another big one.” Rosa adds, “We also had a lot of other CBOs approach us and ask how we manage certain aspects of our business.” Overall, the NAC team made new connections that will likely lead to more opportunities for NAC students in the years to come.
The following day, Rosa and Janae set up a booth at the CBO Access Fair. The CBO fair allowed Rosa and Janae to pass out literature to counselors and colleges who were interested in finding out more about CBOs. The majority of the people who stopped by the NAC booth were college representatives looking to make new partnerships with CBOs or looking for innovative programs that could help them get some quality students into their colleges. Representatives from several colleges expressed interest in the NAC, and they asked questions about utilizing CBOs. Janae notes, “It was nice because, as a CBO, we’re the ones who are used to approaching college reps at the college fairs. At this point, they were coming up to us and asking us questions.” Rosa adds, “I met with two college representatives from all female colleges, Bryn Mawr [in Pennsylvania] and St. Mary’s, and they talked to us about how we, as counselors, might help our young women consider attending all-female colleges. It was pretty interesting.” Of all the connections the NAC made during the conference, one that stands out for Janae is Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. According to the Transylvania reps, the university’s Board of Directors recently approved a move to partner with CBOs on a nationwide level. Smiling, Janae notes, “They told us they want us to be one.”
Later, Rosa and Janae attended a College Access Fair. At the College Access fair, it was the college representatives’ turn to sit behind the booths. Rosa and Janae took advantage of the opportunity and reached out to colleges and universities who were present at NACAC. They also caught up with many colleges and universities that the NAC currently works with as a way to strengthen the NAC’s relationship with them.
On Saturday, the last day of the event, Rosa and Janae attended a “Special Interest Group” (SIG) for CBOs. The SIGs help NACAC participants communicate with the greater NACAC body of voting members about issues that need to be addressed in the higher education system. They act similarly to a lobbying group within NACAC to help CBOs advocate for issues related to counselors, students, the college-going process, and more. Most of the CBOs attending the conference came together to discuss the current state of various CBO issues. Rosa declares, “We met with other CBOs and talked about how, as organizations banding together, we can advocate for changes within NACAC.” One change includes advocating on behalf of students who receive scholarships from CBOs. Many times, these scholarships negatively impact the financial aid packages that colleges offer students. In other words, colleges often lower the financial aid they will award a student if he or she receives scholarships from CBOs. Another change includes lowering conference fees for CBOs.