IECA Urges Action to Ensure the Safety of Jewish Students & Faculty on College Campuses

This letter from IECA CEO Mark Sklarow and Board President Belinda Wilkerson has been sent to Dr. Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education; James Kvaal, Under Secretary of Education; Hon. Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Hon. Virginia Foxx, Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

We are alarmed by and condemn the unprecedented rise in antisemitism on college and university campuses. Jewish students and faculty are feeling fearful, hurt, and threatened. Jewish students have been prevented from entering buildings on campus, refused access to classrooms, and verbally and sometimes physically attacked by angry mobs made up of students and those unaffiliated with the colleges. No student should be singled out and subjected to physical or verbal violence based on religion.

More must be done so Jewish students feel physically and emotionally safe while assuring academic freedom and freedom of speech at colleges. If colleges are unable to guarantee the safety and equal access to campus for Jewish students, federal agencies must be prepared to act.

We remain hopeful that colleges and universities can come through this fraught time with unity and a renewed commitment to their missions and community standards, where all students and faculty can live, learn, and work together with respect, inclusivity, and tolerance.

IECA Returns to Capitol Hill for Our Second Annual DC Advocacy Day

On March 4-5, 2024, 15 IECA members descended on Capitol Hill for the second annual IECA DC Advocacy Day. We held 33 meetings with elected officials and their legislative aides from the US House of Representatives and Senate, introducing (or re-introducing) IECA to offices representing California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Vermont. The event kicked off with a meeting with Bernie Sander’s (VT) office, who is the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).

DC Advocacy Chair Steven Mercer commented, “It was a great opportunity to learn more about the Understanding the True Cost of College Act and the College Transparency Act. Not many people get a chance to do this, as it’s rare for committee staff to meet with constituents. However, IECA has a close relationship with this committee since [CEO] Mark Sklarow was recently invited to give congressional testimony. This has allowed us to continue building close relationships with policymakers in Washington DC, which ultimately benefits the students, families we work with, and members of IECA.”

Whitney Bruce, Vice Chair of the Government Relations Committee, continued, “Our conversations in legislators’ offices were powerful and affirming. While we went there to advocate for issues that matter to us as we serve our clients, the power of the legislation we were discussing is in its benefit to those students and families who don’t have the benefit of our expertise.”

The purpose of Advocacy Day is to advocate for issues important to our profession and the students and families with whom we work. The issues we addressed this year included the following.

Introduction of IECA

We introduced IECA as the premier association within our profession, requiring our members to adhere to the highest standards of expertise and ethical integrity. We encouraged the offices to look to us for our expertise in education and adolescent development, and to partner with us in the development of legislation and policymaking to support and protect students and families in their educational journey.

Transparency in Higher Education

Understanding the True Cost of College Act. This act requires standard terminology and a universal format to assist students and their families, colleges and universities, and secondary school and postsecondary counselors to make informed decisions about the real cost of college and reverse the trend of taking on staggering student debt. Financial aid transparency is a step toward greater access and opportunity for all students.

College Transparency Act. This bipartisan bill ensures greater transparency regarding student outcomes at postsecondary institutions, providing information for evaluating which school to attend. The current system is overly burdensome; the new system will give students a clear understanding of their return on investment. The data will include information on student outcomes, including enrollment, graduation rates, and post-college earnings across colleges and majors.

We thanked those senators and congressmen who have already co-sponsored these bills and asked for support from those who have not done so.

Adolescent Mental Health

Given the adolescent mental health crisis, IECA supports legislation to address the following:

  • Increasing the availability of mental health support for adolescents within and beyond school
  • Providing critical oversight and standards for residential therapeutic schools and programs
  • Ensuring parity of mental and physical health coverage by insurers

While there is currently no legislation facing Congress on these issues, we positioned ourselves as experts and asked for a “seat at the table” in the development of future legislation. We were joined by Kyle Matous, our new lobbyist from Advocacy Associates. As a previous Chief of Staff on the Hill, and most recently as the Director of Government Relations for Bono’s ONE Campaign, Matous is incredibly well-connected. Until our return next March, he will be our “boots on the ground” presence. He acknowledged that while we may not see any quick movement on the two transparency bills given the current state of Congress, the consistent emphasis on our issues is the best way to ensure change in the future.

“I got to meet the same staffer from Senator John Cornyn’s office that I met last year; she remembered my name, my title within IECA, and my business/location. We discussed the two bills and the adolescent mental health issues in much depth and how IECA can be involved in future legislation or hearings. It was like American Democracy 101 with my senator’s office. We positioned ourselves as the expert in the field of educational consulting, advocating for the students and families we serve, as well as the interest of those who do not have access to our services.” —Ibrahim Firat, President, IECA

Actions You Can Take

As an IECA member, you may ask, “What can I do?” We encourage you to write to your elected representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the Understanding the True Cost of College Act (H.R. 1198, S. 528) and the College Transparency Act (H.R. 2957, S. 1349), both of which are bipartisan and bicameral. And according to Mark Sklarow, “Next year, we will have new tools built into our website that will facilitate direct communication between IECA members and their elected representatives.”

A huge thank you to Steven Mercer, Chair of the DC Advocacy Day Committee, and committee members Cheryl Chamberlain and Jeana Kawamura, for planning this event, which was filled with great conversation with congressional staff about our important work as champions for our students and their families.

By Linda Daley, 2023-2024 Chair, IECA Government Relations Committee

IECA Urges Colleges to Adjust Deadlines Due to FAFSA Delays

The US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office released an update this week announcing that the earliest the Department will begin transmitting FAFSA applicant information to schools and state agencies is the first half of March.

We are deeply concerned by the impact this further delay will have on students and families who are depending on financial aid offers in order to pursue their higher education goals. This disruption to the typical enrollment timeline is certain to create increased anxiety for all students depending on some sort of financial aid, especially low-income students navigating this already stressful and complex process.

We appreciate that some colleges and universities are already delaying their May 1 decision deadlines and urge that all follow suit in order to allow adequate time for students to weigh their offers.

IECA will continue to bring our members the latest information on changes to the FAFSA rollout, and how students and families will be impacted. Members can access our recorded webinar on the new FAFSA, join and follow discussions on the Member Network, and bring their questions to upcoming monthly member roundtables. We encourage you to continue to stay informed and patient during this challenging process, and to advise your client-families to do the same.

In early March, IECA leadership will meet with legislators on Capitol Hill for our second annual advocacy event. We will advocate for greater clarity in the financial aid award process through the standardization of college financial aid offers proposed in the Understanding the True Cost of College Act. We will also urge legislators to consider the challenges faced by students and families imposed by the new FAFSA rollout.

We will continue to advocate for the independent educational consulting profession and the best interests of our members, students, and families.

Reflecting on the Supreme Court’s Decision on Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court has just announced its long-anticipated ruling restricting the use of affirmative action in higher education admission. This decision has garnered significant attention and ignited passionate discussions across the nation. While many will have strong emotions and opinions surrounding this topic, I urge you all to be contemplative as we await the full implications, including insights from colleges who have been planning for this result. We can productively channel our energies and our work into encouraging colleges and universities to develop innovative new strategies to assure their campuses are diverse, reflective of the nation, and welcoming to all.

Affirmative action has long been a contentious issue, provoking a range of reactions from different individuals and communities. Some view it as a necessary tool to address historical inequalities and promote diversity, while others see it as an infringement upon merit-based principles. Regardless of your personal stance, we can all agree that as higher education institutions play a vital role in shaping the future of our society,  it is crucial to ensure that their admissions processes are fair, inclusive, diverse and effective. These principles speak to IECA’s guiding principles.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action in admission, it presents an opportunity for colleges and universities to reevaluate their admission practices and develop new game plans that align with the changing legal landscape. IECA and all of our members can actively engage in meaningful conversations and encourage institutions to explore alternative approaches that promote diversity, equity, and excellence simultaneously.

The post-affirmative action era could witness the emergence of creative and dynamic solutions aimed at fostering inclusivity while maintaining high academic standards. Universities may consider implementing socio-economic factors, holistic evaluations, or tailored outreach programs to ensure equal opportunities for all students, regardless of their background or ethnicity. By urging institutions to proactively embrace change, we can help shape a future in which diversity and merit coexist harmoniously.

It is important to remember that progress often emerges from challenges and adversity. Instead of allowing anger or resentment to consume us, let us channel our energies into supporting our colleges and universities as they navigate the evolving landscape. Engaging in constructive dialogue, advocating for transparency, and demanding accountability will be vital as we collectively work towards creating a higher education system that is fair, inclusive, and accessible to all.

In the coming weeks and months, IECA will explore avenues for such dialogue and innovation at conferences, in webinars, in Insights, and beyond. IECA’s Government Relations Committee has established a task force to study the Supreme Court’s action and colleges’ responses. Together as leading voices representing our clients and their families, we can pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future in higher education.

Together, let’s champion progress, embrace diversity in all its forms, and promote constructive dialogue.

IECA Advocates for Standardizing College Financial Aid Offers

IECA supports standardizing college financial aid offers. The Understanding the True Cost of College Act introduced by Young Kim (R-CA) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) requires standard terminology and offer formats to assist colleges and universities, students and their families, secondary school and postsecondary counselors, and nonprofit consumer groups. IECA believes that financial aid transparency is a step toward greater access and opportunity for all students. We back legislation that provides financial aid clarity.

The call to standardize financial aid offers is not new. Mark Kantrowitz wrote about this topic in a 2007 article in Inside Higher Ed. In 2012 and 2013, a group of bipartisan senators introduced legislation to standardize student aid offers. Those senators included Tom Harkin, Marco Rubio, and Charles Grassley. Senator Grassley introduced Understanding the True Cost of College Act in 2019 with Tina Smith (D-MN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

There are other bills and a recently created task force to study the issue. IECA would like to see all higher education institutions use the same template so that students can easily compare offers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in early December 2022, after studying a sample of offers from 176 colleges and universities, that most were not using the recommended template from the Department of Education. The GAO recommends that Congress pass legislation that would include best practices for colleges regarding financial aid offers. Young Kim’s office has said that her legislation will be reintroduced this spring.

IECA believes it is time to require standardization. To join this effort, contact your representatives and let them know that financial aid transparency is an important issue to our college-going community and it is time to move forward by reintroducing and approving the True Cost of College Act.

Five Ways IECA Changed in 2022, and One Way It Didn’t

Those who work for any nonprofit—a school, a church group, or a membership society like IECA—know that change in such organizations can come slowly. Nonprofits are notoriously averse to alienating supporters and members, seek to develop consensus, and are more often than not pushed to change rather than embracing it.

Yet I know that when we look back on the history of IECA (which we’ll do soon as we close in on our 50th anniversary), we will see 2022 as a transformative year, one in which the association changed in substantial and fundamental ways.

1. Government Affairs

After years of avoiding any involvement in legislation and keeping a low profile even after being pulled into some state efforts to regulate or register IECs, in 2022 IECA wholeheartedly embraced our role in two ways: 1) We demanded that IECs be treated fairly and as valued small businesspeople; and 2) We became a valued source for state and federal agencies as they examined laws effecting adolescents and education. This past year IECA and its legislative counsel/lobbyists weighed in, with some success on several issues. We took positions designed to support members and their clients and responded with enthusiasm when a U.S. Senate Committee sought IECA’s advice on legislation being considered that impacted teens.

As one IECA member told me in a group Zoom meeting, “I have come to realize that unlike any other group, IECA has my back.”

2. Innovating How We Provide Education

For most of IECA’s history, member educational opportunities were conducted in person: conferences, Summer Training Institute, retreats, campus tours, and symposia were all held in person. COVID, of course, required us to reassess and within weeks we transitioned to online learning. Now we have the opportunity to reexamine the delivery models for our educational offerings. We are exploring what type of learning works best virtually and what works best in person so we can innovate all of our educational programming. Look for changes to conferences that reflect these changes, including advanced Harkness-style, small group sessions for advanced topics, more small-group discussions, new and improved networking, and more expansive tours.

3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The IECA Board of Directors has fully embraced the idea that IECA needs to examine our processes, requirements, leadership, and programming to ensure that all are welcome, all who are qualified can find pathways to volunteerism and leadership, and all can participate. Diversity this year was a central focus. Are we ensuring that planned events don’t conflict with religious and cultural holidays? Are we ensuring that those with disabilities, including hearing and vision impairment, can access IECA information online? Do our conferences consider the needs of those who are neurodiverse? Do we ensure that membership is available to those who have a non-traditional background? There is much to be done, but recognizing these needs is an important start.

4. Growth of the Two Gs: Global and Graduate School

The growth in members with clients looking to study outside of their home nation, as well as those with clients looking into graduate and professional education, exploded in 2022. This offered IECA a critical challenge. I have often said that IECA should never ask folks to join if we are unable to meet their needs. Our Graduate and Global members presented us with such a challenge in 2022. As an association, we have embraced both and have re-committed to making both sub-specialties an essential piece of who we are. We launched study groups, affinity groups, and roundtables; we increased the number of educational sessions offered at conferences; we held our first global gathering in 2022 and will follow up with a university symposium in Italy early in the new year. Graduate school advising is growing quickly, and many members have offered to volunteer, present, and host; our processes are working overtime to keep up, and we are committed to doing so.

5. Embracing Our New Role

On the day I arrived at IECA, 28 years ago, I was told that IECA was the “gold standard” in the profession. Since that day, I embraced the concept and have told our board on numerous occasions that “protecting IECA’s reputational value” was as important as protecting our financial viability. But something changed this past year. It happened when government agencies and other educational associations reached out to us for support or guidance. It happened when hundreds of members in other associations joined IECA, either because of our legislative work or because of our diverse options of educational programming. It happened when members embraced the value of having experts in adolescent behavior, since increased numbers of “typical” adolescents were dealing with mental health challenges. It happened when we conducted a survey of volunteers and discovered that over 300 members are volunteering in significant ways. And it was cemented when we realized that all the above led us to a point when our membership includes 150% more IECs than any other organization in the US or the world. In 2022, our role as the leader of the profession was not simply an adage, it became reality and as a result our responsibility to the profession and to the public has grown.

6. One Way We Have NOT Changed

Despite these changes, IECA has fundamentally remained the same. Our expectations that potential members must demonstrate they are at the top of their profession remains, just as we stress ethics and excellence in our trainings. Our standards remain the highest in the field. We take ethical violations seriously. We remain committed to the concept that all IECs are colleagues, not competitors. And most critically, we continue to hold fast to the rule that IECA members work, always, in the best interest of their clients.

IECA Responds to Rick Singer’s Sentencing

IECA responded to today’s sentencing of Rick Singer, mastermind of the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scheme, which has included the conviction of more than 50 people.

While Singer’s wrongdoing has resulted in a jail sentence today, and both parents and athletic directors have been similarly found guilty, these punishments have not resulted in fixing the many problems vexing college admissions.

“The Varsity Blues scandal led colleges to review their admissions systems to make sure they were ethical and upstanding, but the broader issue of opaqueness continues to plague the college application process—and result in heightened student and parent anxiety,” said Mark Sklarow, CEO of IECA. “While we applaud the court for bringing Rick Singer to justice, we continue to advocate for greater transparency in admission criteria from college admissions offices.”

The steep decline in college acceptance rates further heightens the anxiety levels of students and families. With many colleges moving to test-optional admissions due to the pandemic, the pool of applicants has grown, and acceptance rates have fallen to record lows for many colleges and universities: most recently 3.19% for Harvard, 8.56% for Rice, and 9% for Tufts, among others.

Adding to this, access to college advising is unequal across the country and particularly strained in urban and rural public high schools, where the average student-to-counselor ratio is 455:1 and more than 700:1 in some areas. This leaves school counselors overburdened and students under-resourced.

How IECA Assures Parents the Highest Ethical Standards in College Advising

Independent college advisors who seek to join IECA go through an extensive application process designed to assure the public that unlike Singer, the advisor they are working with is knowledgeable, competent, and ethical. They must have a master’s degree (or equivalent), at least three years of admissions counseling experience, experience working with scores of students, and have visited 50 campuses before they can be considered for professional membership. In addition, all members must agree to abide by IECA’s Principles of Good Practice and submit their marketing materials for review to ensure they accurately reflect the independent educational consultant’s role.

IECA members sign an annual pledge that governs their interactions with colleges, students, and parents. They agree to avoid any action that distorts or misrepresents a student’s record or interferes with a university’s ability to accurately evaluate a student. Because IECA consultants are committed to the highest ethical standards of practice, families find that IECA members have the student’s best interest as their sole focus.

Recent years have seen tremendous growth in the independent educational consultant profession, with IECA’s membership now totaling more than 2,600 consultants in almost every state and 41 countries around the world (reflecting a 60% growth since the Varsity Blues scandal broke). Throughout its growth, however, it’s adherence to the highest standards in ethical, student-centered advising has remained unchanged.  According to Sklarow, “Our growth is a testament to the public’s reaction to the Varsity Blues scandal. Parents wanted a way to be guaranteed that their IEC was both capable and earnest in finding the best possible college or university for their child.”

Sklarow continued, “Our members are ethical, compassionate professionals who dedicate their careers to advising students and families on their individual paths to success. They focus on the unique student’s needs to help them have a successful experience wherever they choose to attend college.”

How IECA Members Help Students and Families Navigate College Admissions

Families who choose to work with an IECA member educational consultant to navigate the college admissions process benefit from the consultant’s expertise, professionalism, and unbiased viewpoint to find the best-fit college for their student.

IECA members have extensive, firsthand knowledge of colleges—gained from touring dozens of colleges, meeting with admission officers, and conducting their own research. An IECA member consultant offers individual attention, spending hours with each student and their family to learn the student’s personality, interests, qualifications, and aspirations.

Combining their vast knowledge and their understanding of the specific student, IECA member consultants then help find the best-fit colleges for the student—those that provide the best environment for the student’s academic, social, and personal growth and meet the student’s financial needs. An IECA member consultant walks the student and family through each step of the college application process, meaning reduced stress and anxiety for the student and family.

IECA members believe there are many great postsecondary options for every student, and no student should be made to feel that they must become something they are not to get accepted. Being and presenting one’s authentic self and demonstrating one’s own talents and abilities is a way of ensuring the right college fit. This is central to what an ethical independent educational consultant does.

Four IECA Members Honored with 2022 Making a Difference Awards

IECA has recognized four independent educational consultants (IECs) from across the U.S. with its annual Making a Difference Awards in recognition of their selfless volunteer efforts that have made a difference in the work of the association’s 2,600 members during this year.

Award recipients include Chris Andersson of New York, NY; Cheryl Chamberlain of Riverwoods, IL; Yesim Erez of Anaheim Hills, CA and Istanbul, Turkey; and Yvonne Espinoza of Austin, TX.

Through their efforts, these members have added significantly to the strengths and skills of their IECA member colleagues in their work with tens of thousands of students annually. The lifelong learning, collegiality, and ethical standards represented by the awardees are the hallmarks of IECA.

The Making a Difference Awards were presented by IECA Board President Ibrahim Firat during the organization’s Fall Conference (November 7-9, 2022 in San Diego, CA), which was attended by over 1,000 independent educational consultants and college, school, and therapeutic program representatives.

“Our Making a Difference awardees have fostered connections and community among IECA members, and shared resources benefiting all members’ IEC practices,” said IECA CEO Mark Sklarow. “Their collegiality and generosity are hallmarks of IECA.”

Ibrahim Firat (left) with Chris Andersson (right)
Cheryl Chamberlain
Ibrahim Firat (left) with Yesim Erez (right)
Yvonne Espinoza

IECA Responds to Tragic Violence at Universities

We are devastated by the tragic acts of violence at the University of Idaho and the University of Virginia. We extended our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims as well as the students, faculty, and staff at both universities, and their families.

We urge our members and your student and family clients to prioritize your mental health and wellness, both in the face of such horrific events and for long-term health and well-being. We also advocate for policies that focus on the mental health and wellness of our students and educators to help prevent such tragic events in the future.

You may find these resources helpful, as both parents and educators:

IECA Advocates for Religious Tolerance and Inclusion

IECA advocates for religious tolerance and inclusion and condemn all forms of antisemitism, extremism, hate, and bigotry. We believe no one should feel attacked or marginalized because of their religious beliefs, and that every student, family, and colleague should be treated with kindness, acceptance, and respect.

Disturbingly, antisemitism remains a persistent and serious problem in the US and globally. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that attacks on Jewish people and sites in the US were committed at record high levels in 2021, including hundreds at colleges and universities. We at IECA are deeply troubled by this intolerance and offer our support and empathy to our Jewish students, families, members, and affiliated professionals.

IECA is committed to helping families of all backgrounds have access to skilled and ethical academic or therapeutic guidance and to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We welcome all individuals, regardless of age, citizenship status, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, learning differences, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Our work to promote equity, fairness, and inclusion must be constant.

We urge our members and colleagues to recognize and respond to instances of antisemitism, bigotry, and hate. Here are resources to help you take action today:

As leaders in education, we have an opportunity to model leadership that is focused on unity, support, and action. We must do our part to build a more tolerant, inclusive, and socially just society.