The largest and most extensive study of the IEC profession has just been released, and it points to a period of sustained growth and opportunity.

All measured indexes suggest that despite the impacts of COVID, a weak economy, and a declining adolescent population, independent educational consultants (IECs) are busier, more successful, and more numerous, and in the greatest period of expansion ever in the history of the profession.
The survey, conducted by IECA as part of a commitment to ongoing original research, showed:

  • There are more IECs than ever before
  • The number of students seeking IEC advising is at its highest yet
  • IECs’ businesses are increasingly busy
  • The highest percentage of IECs recorded are reaching client limits and referring out
  • IECs are more likely to be expanding their practice with additional staff

As a measure of overall change in client base, over two-thirds of IECs reported that they have seen a growth in the number of students they work with (as compared to the year 2019 immediately prior to COVID). Just 11 percent saw any decrease. The largest percentage (56 percent of respondent IECs) has an increase of over 25 percent. Moreover, some 80 percent of experienced IECs report that they reached their maximum number of clients in the last year—a figure that is one-third higher than just three years ago.

Given the increasing client base, IECs reported being busier than ever, even with hiring additional staff. Over half of surveyed members report to be working more than 40 hours per week, with increases seen in those working later into the evening, and meeting with clients on Saturdays and Sundays, as compared to past surveys.

One major change that has allowed this client increase is the use of new technologies. Just a decade ago, IECs reported that, on average, 98 percent of client meetings were held face-to-face. Today, only 11 percent say all or most of their meetings are face-to-face, with over half saying they never see clients in person, even a single time. COVID has accelerated a trend we saw developing five years ago.

While fewer IECs are renting professional, out-of-the-home offices, there remains quite a variety of locations employed by IECs. Near equal numbers indicate meetings are held in a home office, a professional office, elsewhere in the community (from cafes to client homes), and various locations depending on the client, the time of day, and the circumstances.

Of course, IEC work time is more than client meetings and, in fact, under half of IEC professional time is spent in direct contact with clients and families. Members also spend a quarter of their time on research, 12 percent on visiting campuses, and 16 percent on the business itself. The percentage of time spent on research declines with experience. COVID may have impacted the time spent on visiting campuses as IECs reported an average of about 18 virtual tours in 2021, along with approximately eight in-person tours.

One of the most significant changes taking place is the decline in the number of solopreneurs. At one time, those working without any support staff accounted for more than 80 percent of IECs. The number has declined to 55 percent and the trend seems certain to continue.

Two other changes are worthy of mention: the growth of IECs globally (among IECA’s 2,600 current members, 195 members come from 41 countries around the world) and the increase in US-based IECs serving students globally.

The structure of IECs’ service models has changed some, but not at the rapid pace seen above. Today, 87 percent of IECs offer a comprehensive package, while three-quarters offer hourly or limited-service packages to clients (often in addition to a comprehensive model). Members report that when options are presented, three-fourths of clients choose the comprehensive alternative.

By Mark Sklarow, IECA CEO, can be reached at [email protected].

Members can view the State of the Profession report, which includes much more information on fees, profitability, and related topics, here.