Martha Allman, director of admissions for Wake Forest University, is attending the National Association of College Admissions Counseling national conference in Baltimore. Here she shares her thoughts about the 65th annual event.

By Martha Allman

In my twenty seven years of college admissions, I have attended more NACAC conferences than I would like to count and every year I am more and more struck by the for lack of a better word, the growing “commercialization” of college admissions. Sometimes I wonder if we have completely lost sight of our real educational mission.

When I walked into the exhibit hall at this year’s NACAC Conference, I must admit I felt a definite sensory overload. Nearly 300 vendors, some residing in lavishly appointed booths, were eager to tell be about the next best thing in college admissions. Consultants, direct mail gurus, graphics specialists, software geniuses and masters of social networking were all poised to show me the next best thing in college admissions. What I had to have to stay “competitive.”

So I turned to my friend who does admissions at one of the nation’s most selective colleges and said to him, “What if we called a moratorium? What if all colleges took the millions and millions of dollars we spend on consultants and marketing publications, web design, and admissions tracking software, etc, etc, and put it into financial aid, scholarships, faculty salaries, books, research or maybe even reaching out to struggling public school systems? What a revolution that would be in American education! Just imagine!

He laughed.”Well for starters, after the GM bailout, AIG and all the other economic woes we’ve weathered, the American economy couldn’t stand the hit. Just look around you and think about the unemployment that would create.”

“Secondly, Martha, college admissions is an arms race. We have to do everything our peers do and then some more and constantly look for something new and shiny to catch students’ eyes. No one has the courage to just stop. Unilateral disarmament would be suicide.”

“Finally, what you describe is a Utopian Society and you are a student of history and so you know those never work.”

Okay. Idealism brought down to earth. The celestial music I was hearing fell silent.

But I refuse to be jaded. When I look around this conference, do you know what I see? Sessions on working with Community Based Organizations to bring access to the underserved, workshops on how to do college counseling with gay and lesbian students, sessions on the educational issues of undocumented students. I see Bob Schaeffer from Fair Test and Lloyd Thacker from the Education Conservancy calling for dramatic changes in the admissions landscape. And people are listening.

And in little corners around the hotels and convention center, I see college counselors and admissions officers huddled in corners talking about individual students, helping them with college selection, worrying about the fit. And that is the real point of all we do.

We aren’t in Utopia but there is lots of hope in Baltimore!