This is a follow-up to the PCACAC December Case. As you may remember, we hosted a competition to solicit replies concerning the following case. Below, please find the case, the winning submission and additional discussion. Watch for the January Case by the end of the month.
Just a reminder, as part of the PCACAC AP Committee’s desire to proactively discuss ethics, we will be sending out monthly “case studies.” In these cases, we offer a situation and discuss whether the issue is in compliance with NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practices (SPGP). This month’s case was submitted by Casey Zimmer, a member of the PCACAC AP Committee as well as Director of College Counseling of Samford School (DE). If you have a question about a situation or SPGP, please contact a member of the AP Committee.
December Case: Charlie, the College Counselor for his school, was quite happy for his student, Schroeder, when Schroeder happily walked into Charlie’s office on December 15th to share the news – he’d been admitted to Peanuts U Early Decision! Schroeder had also been responsible in keeping his options open, and he had already submitted several other applications Regular Decision. Charlie felt that Schroeder had played his cards pretty well, getting his applications out of the way while making a prudent decision to apply ED to his first-choice school, Peanuts. He reminded Schroeder that he was supposed to withdraw his other applications, and Schroeder went on his way to play the piano for the school’s holiday concert.
One day in late February, Schroeder came into Charlie’s office and asked him, “So Mr. Brown, have you sent my mid-year reports to my other colleges yet?” Alarm bells went off in Charlie’s mind. Schroeder shouldn’t be worried about his other applications or mid-year reports! He sat Schroeder down for a talk, and found out the scoop. The Financial Aid Award presented by Peanuts to Schroeder and his family was way off what the family thought it could afford to pay for Peanuts.
Schroeder had not officially withdrawn his other applications after he had been admitted to Peanuts, because they had not yet received a Financial Aid package. Once they did receive it in late January, the family quickly started filing appeals with Peanuts – and Schroeder started to get concerned about keeping his other options open – hence his question about his mid-year reports. Schroeder was unsure when they would get a final decision from Peanuts.
To complicate matters, Schroeder proceeds to ask him to send materials to two new schools not previously on his list.
What should Charlie do? What are the ethical issues?
Winning Submission: We would like to thank the numerous professionals from around the country, particularly the numerous members of Illinois ACAC, who took the time to think about and submit an entry to the December Case. The response was enthusiastic and the PCACAC AP Committee had a tough time picking a winner. In the end, the following write up submitted by Samantha Schneider on behalf of the Towson University of Admission Office was selected:
“SPGP defines Early Decision (ED) as the application process in which students make a commitment to a first-choice institution where, if admitted, they definitely will enroll. While pursuing admission under an Early Decision plan, students may apply to other institutions, but may have only one Early Decision application pending at any time. Should a student who applies for financial aid not be offered an award that makes attendance possible, the student may decline the offer of admission and be released from the Early Decision commitment. The institution must notify the applicant of the decision within a reasonable and clearly stated period of time after the Early Decision deadline. Usually, a nonrefundable deposit must be made well in advance of May 1. The institution will respond to an application for financial aid at or near the time of an offer of admission.
We felt it was within the student’s right to re-consider the binding agreement if they are no longer able to afford the cost of attendance. Charlie is burdened with #1 of the member conventions: protecting the best interests of all students a primary concern in the admission process. It didn’t seem like Charlie or the Schroeder family could foresee how far off the financial aid package for Peanut U was during the process but what type of financial research did the student complete before applying? Is there any documentation from the school indicating that they could promise a certain amount of aid (merit or need?). This may also fall back to the net-price calculator if scholarship calculations are included. From the school’s perspective, what language do they include on the website about the procedure for an ED student to question their financial aid? Must it be done by a certain date? The counselor is certainly in a tough spot, but it seems that he might have followed up with Charlie about his notifications or had a conversation with the ED institution and the student jointly. We would want Charlie to speak with the ED school before doing anything more with the other applications in question.”
Further Discussion: Since this case was posted in mid-December, there has been an active and lively related discussion on the NACAC Exchange. The AP Committee has been enthused to see the timeliness of the case; the responses that we have received, as well as the opinions on the NACAC Exchange, demonstrate this issue is relevant and murky. In reading the various thoughts on this topic, we see multiple viewpoints and considerations ranging from college (from the ED college and others involved), student-counseling (high school, CBO or independent professional) and student/family perspectives. For example, some of the issues that affect each viewpoint include:
- How does the acceleration of the application process (application creep) effect Early Decision? Is ED really early anymore?
- How does the advent of Estimated Cost Calculators effect this process? Do they provide enough accurate information ahead of time for families? What is a fair timeline for an ED college to get a package to a student?
- With the FAFSA process opening in October, will more colleges package earlier? Will this effect students’ interpretation of “affordable”? How is “affordable” defined given differential packaging and tuition discounting?
- What is the role of the counselor when this becomes messy? Gatekeeper not allowing more applications, student advocate or combination?
- How do other (non-ED) colleges react to a student withdrawing from an ED commitment?
If you wish to file a complaint, please complete a NACAC Confidential Complaint form. All personal information will be kept confidential, but the information will be forwarded to the appropriate affiliate AP Committee. This committee will follow up on the issue.
Want to review previous case studies?
View all of the Admissions Practices Case Studies on The Anchor here.
Want to submit a case for consideration? Please e-mail the PCACAC AP Committee Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org