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Social-Media Challenge Takes Aim at an ‘Inequity’ in Admissions

Bates College was the first to throw down.

On Thursday morning, the liberal-arts college announced via Twitter that it would send one high-school counselor to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual conference next year, in San Diego. And Bates challenged Pitzer College to do the same.

So began the High School Counselor Challenge, a social-media campaign with a simple goal: getting more public-school counselors, especially those who work with underserved students, to one of the admission profession’s premier gatherings. The idea was hatched by David Quinn, who coordinates the International Baccalaureate program at Edmonds-Woodway High School, in Washington.

Many counselors, Mr. Quinn knows, work at high schools that can’t—or won’t—pay for them to attend the conference, which offers professional-development opportunities and a chance to rub shoulders with admissions officers. Indeed, most of the counselors I’ve met at the event over the last 10 years came from private schools. “This is a social-inequity problem,” says Mr. Quinn, who for years has paid his own way to the conference.

Dozens of admissions officials have told Mr. Quinn that they will accept the challenge. Participating colleges, he says, may choose any counselor they wish, from a nearby high school or one on the other side of the country. The estimated expense? $1,000 to $1,200 per person.

“What I hope to achieve here is that by sending folks to the national conference, we can give birth to some new leaders as well,” Mr. Quinn says, “folks who realize they’re part of something bigger and not just something small.”

A NACAC spokeswoman had not yet heard of the challenge when I called her on Thursday morning. This year, according to figures she provided, the association gave about $53,000 in grants that members used to attend the national conference and other professional-development sessions. Last year NACAC created a program that also provides funding for public-school counselors to attend the association’s events.

The social-media push is a grass-roots attempt to do more. Shortly after Bates’s tweet, Angel B. Perez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Pitzer, accepted the challenge, and shot a challenge of his own back across the continent.

Soon, Brandeis University responded:

In an email message to me this afternoon, Mr. Perez described his support for the venture: “Each year, major decisions are made that impact equity and access globally, but the voices in the room are usually the ones with the largest endowments, budgets, or perceived prestige. In other words, if you can’t pay to go to NACAC, your voice does not count. If public-school counselors do not have equal representation at the conference, then we are truly not making decisions for ALL students.”

Although this challenge involves no ice buckets, Mr. Perez has high hopes. “Our goal,” he writes, “is to blow up social media.”

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