HECA, the Higher Education Consultant Association, is busy growing. The professional organization for independent educational consultants (IECs) has doubled its membership since 2010. Now boasting over 1,000 members, the organization known for collegial relationships along with development and learning opportunities in the admissions space is exploring new ways to scale its impact and keep its "heart" while growing and serving members that are in turn serving students in an ever-changing admissions process.
Channel CCR recently had the pleasure of sitting down with HECA's Executive Director Ping Wei and current President Carolee Gravina to discuss the current state of college admissions, HECA's vision, and how counselors can keep engaged in their communities.
Channel CCR: Carolee, what was your journey into independent college counseling?
Carolee: My mentor was Gael Casner, who guided my son through the college search and application process. Gael suggested I take the UCLA intro course in the College Counseling program – and I was hooked. I found an amazing combination of all the things I loved and was good at – working with students, keeping track of details, understanding curriculum. Plus – I love the travel to visit schools (I average about 23 a year) and the adventure of helping students discover themselves and find really good fit schools.
Channel CCR: And Ping, can you share HECA's story?
Ping: We are in our 21st year as a professional association for independent educational consultants. Over the last 5 years, our membership has increased by about 35% to 1000+ members. We’ve always held an annual conference but now we also conduct college tours and webinars and have network of more than 70 HECA community reps domestically and abroad.
Channel CCR: The college applications space is vast and ever-changing. What role does HECA play?
Carolee: Our role is to “to advance the ethical standards of conduct and professionalism in college counseling.” We also provide lots of professional development opportunities for keeping up with our ever-changing world. We HECANs pride ourselves on our inclusiveness for those eager to learn and abide by our standards –and our willingness to share our experiences and knowledge with our colleagues.
One of the things about being an Independent Educational Consultant is that we are independent. Many of us work alone. HECA gives us a sharing, supportive community to bounce off ideas and collaborate with for creative solutions.
Ping: We’ve also started virtual communities where HECA members who live in isolated areas can share and engage with other HECA members. It’s about finding common interests and a way to share! The people who need HECA the most are the ones who are isolated. It can be a lonely profession.
Channel CCR: In your view, what is a problem that HECA is solving?
Ping: Changing how colleges view IECs, especially HECA members. We’re working to help colleges understand that HECA members meet high standards and subscribe to best practices with best fit for the student as the goal – and that we’re knowledgeable and ethical. We’re a group that comes together to promote best practices.
Carolee: Changing the notion that only the rich and famous use IECs. HECA members charge reasonable rates. Most have pro bono clients and many offer sliding scale rates. Most of the students I’ve been working with over the past 3 years have included cost and affordability as one of their top five factors. Their families hire me to help them find the best values – and best fits – for their students.
Channel CCR: Colleges becoming more selective than ever is a hot topic that we and many others have reported on in the past few weeks. What is your reaction?
Carolee: Of course! There was a funny article circulating about one top tier school finally reaching their goal of a 0% acceptance rate. As the world shrinks in terms of information availability and grows in terms of demographics around the world applying to US schools, acceptance rates at the very oldest and most well-known institutions will remain low. The good news is what I call the trickle down effect. So-called “Tier Two” schools have become competitive as well and so on down. Those “non-ivy” schools now have top students attracting top professors and top administrators who are creating top-notch programs and successful graduates. More schools are paying attention to ROI – with focus on internships, career prep, increasing alumni involvement – and providing data about post grad career success.
Channel CCR: What are some of the changes to the college application process that have, in your view, affected how counselors work with students?
Carolee: Social media – opportunities for us to encourage students who like to tell their stories using video and images instead of just words. Apps and opportunities like LinkedIn and ZeeMee will delight some students and cause anxiety for others. We can help them feel confident about relaxing and presenting their best selves in the way that feels most comfortable for them.
Channel CCR: What role does college fit play?
Carolee: Fit is my favorite topic – that’s what I do. Fit means taking the time to help your student know him or herself first, and THEN to look for schools that will both support their needs AND challenge them to grow into the person they want to become. Fit is about campus culture, educational philosophy and learning style, values and mission, academic playing field and affordability. Notice I didn’t mention location or size – that can be fit too, but I think it’s often important to think about those other things equally – or even first!
Fit is something that should be determined by a combination of the head (data, research, facts) and the heart (visiting! Staying overnight, sitting in on a class, talking with other students, does it FEEL right?).
Channel CCR: What are some word you would use to describe the culture at HECA?
Carolee: Sharing, Caring, Welcoming, Professional, Ethical, Creative, Fun! HECA is a warm and welcoming community. We seek (and enjoy!) each other’s company to share, learn and grow for the good of ourselves, our students and our profession.
Ping: I’ve worked with a number of associations and I’ve found HECA’s culture to be extremely warm and personal yet professional. I find it refreshing and personally rewarding to work with volunteers who are so passionate about their work and profession. HECA truly is a member-based, member-driven organization that relies heavily upon our volunteers.
Channel CCR: Let's talk about the future of HECA. What are some areas you are focusing on for 2018 and beyond?
Carolee: In the past 8 years we’ve grown from 400 members to over 1000 members. We are all very mindful of maintaining what we call The Heart of HECA – that warm and welcoming friendliness – as it becomes harder, almost impossible, for each one of us to know everyone else. Of course, as we grow, we have more volunteers, more great ideas, more expertise to share, so we’re also working hard to take advantage of those opportunities! And technology! Virtual meetings are becoming much easier and much more fun – for committee work, and for round tables and regional informal gatherings.
Ping: The IEC profession is definitely growing and there are more certificate programs available to aspiring IECs than ever. HECA recently created a Provisional Member level for those who are working on becoming IECs.
Channel CCR: Thank you both so much for taking the time to share your insights and growth with us!
Carolee: It was a pleasure. We hope you can come to out to our June conference in Dallas to see HECA in action.
Ping: Thanks so much for this opportunity, Ethan!