NACAC — A gathering of 4,000 extroverts

This year’s NACAC conference was all about the conversation. At the TargetX booth, in the hotel lobby, over drinks and meals, in the streets of Denver, I learned one thing for certain:

Admissions people like to talk.

Pattie Skrha, Director of Admissions at Baldwin Wallace University, summed it up best when she said, “It’s a gathering of 4,000 extroverts who like to talk!”

Most conversations were about admissions and recruitment. Even better most were optimistic and gave the conference an upbeat tone. Maybe it was Denver’s elevation, maybe it’s that everyone is accepting that things have really changed in the past five years and we’re in a new stage of our profession. Either way, it’s always interesting to see what the tone will be at each year’s event.

This was my 11th NACAC conference. My first was 2001 in San Antonio, a week after 9/11. It was a conference that almost didn’t happen, but wisely NACAC decided, “the show must go on” and I’m glad it did.

While attendance was down that year, there was a deep level of conversation and a special bond amongst the attendees. The immediate years following, the mood stayed upbeat. After all, the economy was booming, students were graduating high school in record numbers and families were happy to take on student loans as colleges increased tuition and fees at a record pace. It seemed like the most difficult question to answer from prospective students and parents was, “What’s the party scene like on your campus?”

During the 2008 conference in Seattle, I moderated TargetX’s first iThink event. That morning the headline of the Seattle Post Intelligencer read,

“WAMU SEIZED AND SOLD!”

If you remember Seattle-based Washington Mutual, then you remember they were a former leader in the soon to crumble mortgage business. When I brought it up to the iThink participants they didn’t seem to think it was relevant. Then the bottom fell out. By next year’s NACAC conference (2009 in Baltimore), our iThink event seemed to take on a panicked tone.

Since then NACAC has been held in St. Louis, New Orleans and this year in Denver. And along the way the mainstream media has moved on from the mortgage, banking and real estate crises and focused on the cost of higher education, student indebtedness and the value of a college degree.

So that brings us to “What did we hear during our conversations at this year’s event in Denver?”

Much of it was about the cost of college. Some of it was about the potential “threat” to the residential experience rendered by online, MOOC and other more cost-effective ways to participate in higher education.

Regardless of the topic, it was a lively and civil debate (perhaps more so than the first Presidential debate being hosted in Denver that same week).

Happily this year’s NACAC was less “doom and gloom” than the past few. Maybe everyone is starting to realize that our industry and the way we present it needs to change — instead of moaning about it. I feel there was a collective shift with the majority of the 4,000 extroverts deciding that while we don’t know what the future will bring our profession, it’s better to talk positive about the challenges and possibilities.

Want to hear more specifics about discussions held at NACAC 2012 in Denver?

Watch our Free on Friday webcast “Mile High Observations: Word on the street at NACAC” as my TargetX colleagues, Trent Gilbert (Chief eXperience Officer) and Derek Luther (Sales Executive) discuss key topics and trends from the conference.

To watch the webcast, visit our video library: targetx.com/videolibrary

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