Scholarship and Housing Incentives May Be On The Horizon For College Applicants
Ethics Rules Changes Driven By Department of Justice Investigation
Recent changes to the ethics rules that colleges must follow may pave the way for more incentives offered to early decision applicants such as special scholarships, preferred housing or enhanced financial aid packages. Also affected by the rules revisions are what occurs after students choose a college and deposit by May 1st of their senior year. May 1 is known as the universal reply date in college admission. It is the deadline for students who have not already done so to commit to a college for the next fall. Previously, colleges were prohibited from trying to “poach” a student who had indicated their intent to enroll in another college — no incentives to change their mind, no last-minute scholarships or other benefits were allowed. That rule has also been removed. The third change opens the possibility of colleges recruiting transfer students, another action previously not permitted.
These changes went into effect in September at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), an organization representing more than 15,000 professionals at colleges and universities, high schools, community-based organizations, as well as independent education counselors. The changes to the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP), may have a direct impact on students and their college process.
Why are these changes occurring? For the last two years, NACAC has been subject to an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. The DOJ holds the opinion that some of the rules in the CEPP restrain how and when colleges compete for students. In an attempt to try to settle the DOJ complaint, NACAC removed from the CEPP three provisions that the department believes inhibits competition among colleges.
Changes to Early Decision
Colleges could begin to offer students incentives to apply under a binding early decision program. (Most ED deadlines are early November or early January.) Early decision is a very serious commitment, and we don’t encourage students to apply ED unless it is a clear first choice and the students and family understand the financial ramifications of applying to a binding program. While it is not likely that colleges will act quickly enough to begin offering incentives this year, it is possible and we have in fact seen a few colleges offer housing and financial incentives this fall. We ask students to inform us as well as their high school-based college counselors if they receive any unusual solicitations from colleges to apply ED2. We also ask parents to keep an eye out for such offers. We strongly encourage you to speak directly with a college adviser before agreeing to apply under any ED program.
May 1 Response Date
We will not know the impact of this rule change until after May 1. We are hopeful that most colleges will still respect the ethical guidelines spelled out in other parts of the CEPP and will respect a student’s right to make a college choice free from harassment and the stress of confusing offers and counter offers. But we just do not know what will happen.
The CEPP remains a very strong statement of professional ethics and guidelines. It emphasizes NACAC’s belief that “advocating for the best interests of students in the admission process is the primary ethical concern of our profession.” NACAC’s president has asked member institutions to uphold our beliefs, even in the absence of those explicit rules.
The Plan for Now
Our plan for now is to keep you informed, keep actively discussing this issue in our various national forums, and keep an eye out for changes in behavior by colleges. Again, families and students will be a critical source of information for us, and we strongly urge you to let us know if you see any confusing information from colleges.