Penn admissions officer quits after interest conflict

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel reiterated to members of the Office of Admissions this week a University policy forbidding them from simultaneously serving as college-guidance counselors while employed by Yale.

The reminder came after Inside Higher Ed reported Jan. 30 that three admissions officers at top U.S. universities were receiving free trips and compensation for sitting on a Japanese college-counseling advisory board. One of the three, Judith Hodara, the senior associate director of admissions for the M.B.A. program at the University of Pennsylvania, also owns and works at her own college-counseling business, according to a Feb. 1 article in Inside Higher Ed.

“I have let our officers know that our policy is clear and explicit in this area: While someone is employed by Yale as a professional admissions officer, it would be unacceptable for that individual to act as a privately paid college counselor,” Brenzel told the News on Monday, explaining that the practice represents a serious conflict of interest.

The other officers sitting on the Japanese counseling advisory board are Donald C. Martin, associate dean for enrollment and student services at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Sherry Wallace, director of M.B.A. admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hodara resigned from her consulting roles when they came into the public eye last week, and the Web site for Hodara’s counseling business, IvyStone Educational Consultants, has been disabled.

This latest controversy comes at a time when many universities are facing government scrutiny for possible conflicts of interest. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 is currently investigating 10 Connecticut schools, including Yale, that may have received financial incentives or other kickbacks in return for encouraging their students to use certain study abroad providers. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is also conducting a similar inquiry, having issued subpoenas to several study-abroad providers, as well as investigating student-loan providers that may have entered into comparable underhanded deals with schools.

David Hawkins, the public-policy director for the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, described Hodara’s behavior as unethical because it advantaged students who hired her to help them get into colleges, including Penn.

“In the instance of the advisory board, you’re being paid to serve a company to get students into your institution,” he said. “Anything that causes the perception or actual advantage of getting in is a conflict of interest.”

Hawkins said Hodara’s second charge, owning her own consulting company, is less troubling, since Hodara sits on the admissions board for a graduate-degree program, while her company focused on getting students into undergraduate institutions. But Hawkins said he is still skeptical of the arrangement because of Hodara’s affiliation with Penn.

“You are the representative of an institution,” he explained. “Many students and parents enter into an agreement with the company with some hope that the official would have some sway with the admissions officers in other departments.”

In a statement about Hodara’s extracurricular activities released Jan. 31, Penn officials wrote, “In order to avoid even an appearance of conflict of interest, Ms. Hodara has resigned from all outside consulting activities.”

As a result of this incident, Hawkins said, NACAC is meeting this week to begin discussions about how best to regulate practices such as private consulting in order to prevent such conflicts of interest.

Lloyd Thacker, the executive director of the Education Conservancy, a non-profit organization focused on improving the college admissions process through bringing educators together in advocacy efforts, said while he thinks many high-school students do not receive enough guidance in the application process, universities should forbid their admissions officers from taking outside jobs such as Hodara’s, which are often highly lucrative.

“For the sake of serving the mission of the school, which is access, equity and quality, colleges need to be really careful about what kinds of extra business their admissions officials get involved with,” Thacker said.

Comments