In Wake of Admissions Scandal, College Consultants Group Steps Up

After the FBI exposed college admissions cheats, the Independent Educational Consultants Association helped members stay ahead of any potential fallout. It also came with good news for IECA: a spike in membership applications.

Fueled by the salacious angle of Hollywood wealth, corruption, and privilege run amok, the college admissions cheating scandal has been at the forefront of recent news.

As a result, the Independent Educational Consultants Association was able to use communications savvy to step up for its members, offering advice on dealing with current client concerns and speaking to national media to explain that legitimate college consultants don’t break the law.

In the immediate aftermath of the news, IECA members were rattled. “The first 12 hours, it was very ‘woe is me’ with people saying, ‘I’m going to lose all my clients,’” said Mark Sklarow, CEO of IECA. “Our members were anxious. They were worried about what their [client] parents would think, what colleges would think. They were worried, this is what people would think that college education consultants do: they funnel bribes.”

Determined not to let the industry be tarnished by a few bad actors, IECA ramped up its response, and then it got a little lucky. “The first day, the focus was on the power and the privilege and the lawbreaking piece,” Sklarow said. “The focus on educational consultants didn’t come until the second day. It gave us 24 hours to be out there to get materials out to our members.”

Those materials included a mix of practical advice and public relations strategy. “We urged them to send a quick email to all of their clients, reminding their clients they operate in an ethical manner,” Sklarow said. “We said, ‘Here are the IECA ethical principles of good practice. Here is the IECA logo. If you don’t have them on your website, get them up there.’ We urged them to do letters to the editor of their local paper and gave them key bullet points to discuss.”

IECA issued a press release explaining what good educational consultants do, and Sklarow fielded calls from major media outlets like USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

“The scary part is we’re a small association, with nine full-time employees,” Sklarow said. “Our communications department—that is one person.”

Even with the small staff, IECA was able to act quickly, asking members to speak publicly about what ethical educational consultants do. “Our members were amazing,” he said. “They made thousands and thousands of social media posts. I love how our members jumped into action.”

Unexpected Result

The scandal has also had some positive implications for IECA, which has seen a jump in membership applications since the scandal hit. “People want to be part of saying, ‘We’re not like that. This is an honorable profession, and we want to be part of IECA,’” Sklarow said.

Processing those applications will take time, however. “When we started, we asked ourselves, ‘Are we a membership society or a credentialing board?’” he said. “We moved forward right on the fences. We are a membership society that has very high standards for membership.”

Those standards include a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, visits to at least 50 college campuses, three years of experience in the field, and references (whom IECA contacts).

As the scandal continues to ripple across the industry, the notion of licensing educational consultants has been suggested. Sklarow doesn’t think the idea will gain national traction, but notes that if it did gain momentum, IECA would look to help members by offering the process IECA developed as a roadmap. “What would be most likely to happen is one or two states would look at licensure,” he said. “If they did, I think we would move quickly to be part of that discussion.”

IECA’s story and related success shows that mobilizing quickly in a crisis is key for an association. Does your association have a plan? Let us know in the comments.

(basar17/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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