by Mark H. Skarow, Chief Executive Officer, IECA
If asked for a job description of a school counselor, chances are the list would include academic and college advising, class placements, crisis intervention, and the like. I would never expect the answer to necessitate details about how the counselor is paid: whether that is from tax dollars or parent tuition at an exclusive prep school. Yet for too long the very description of what an independent educational consultant (IEC) IS, draws comments about how they earn a living, most often direct payments from client families. I wrote, in a cover story for the June/July 2013 issue of Insights, that such a definition is rooted in the past and short-changes how far the profession has come. Given the reaction from readers, it seems many are ready to embrace my simple mantra: what makes an IEC a valuable resource for families is rooted in how they work, the methods they use, the training they have, and not the evolving nature of who pays their salary.
Today, a growing number of IECs work in partnership with colleagues or for even larger, nationwide corporations. These education and test prep firms added college advising to their admissions work, seeking out IECs to provide services, sometimes as salaried employees of the company. A newer trend finds a number of large corporations, with no connection to the field, adding educational consulting services as an HR benefit for their employees.
Even more dramatic is the rise of independent educational consultants who deliver their services through community-based organizations (CBOs). In neighborhoods across the country, community organizations are picking up the gaps that developed as school districts downsized their college advising services. Organizations from Girls Scouts to Jack and Jill to religiously affiliated social service agencies in some hard-hit communities, now—or are exploring the need to—offer advising services outside of the schools. Still other IECs are establishing their own charitable organizations, delivering services pro-bono to under-served communities, with support from donors or foundations.
One may wonder if these new models are really independent educational consultants? Can those who are employed by a multi-national’s HR department or Princeton Review or by Boys and Girls Clubs still be seen as “Independent?” Is someone who forms a charity and raises money to provide low- or no-cost services really, fully an IEC?
Absolutely! And the change serves the profession exceedingly well.
The word independent should never been defined by “Paid for by a family.” Rather, independent means not beholden to any educational institution and working only in the interest of the student—the client. This definition of what it means to be ‘independent’ remains true across all descriptions. Unlike agents who accept per head commissions, or recruiters or advisors working as counselors at educational institutions, all those new models described above eschew financial support from schools, colleges, or programs that could influence their advice. In all cases, what distinguishes an IEC from others is a commitment that only the student’s interest will guide their work and no educational institution can influence their efforts.
The other major feature distinguishing IECs from others is their belief that one-on-one advice exploring a student’s social, academic, community, cultural, and financial needs must all be examined. IECs believe that where a student matriculates matters. They believe that a great school match is based not on the institution’s reputation or ranking but on how well it meets a student’s needs, wants, and goals. And IECs know that only by exploring campuses, walking the quad, eating in the dining hall, talking with students, trekking out to see the community, can they really understand what a school offers.
All this presents an exciting, unparalleled opportunity for IECA and all of our members. It’s the opportunity for admission directors, the media, and parents to change their fundamental understanding of who we are. Gone is the belief that IECs are solely defined by how they are compensated. Replacing it is an understanding that independent educational consultants are defined by the work they do, the research they conduct, their financial independence, by their loyalty to their clients, and by the belief in the power of the right match.