As we head into this week’s EMA annual conference, I am reminded of several important issues which speak to our theme this year, “Stronger by Association.” Indeed, since the school year began, I’ve attended an independent school board meeting, conversed with two heads about enrollment strategy, and discussed issues of common concern with three different association colleagues serving the independent school community. In each case, the conversations were enriched because of a wider group contributing to the dialogue and more than one perspective on the topic. This is the brilliance of associations—and why I have devoted most of my professional career to serving in three different independent school associations. When our community comes together, we all become smarter and stronger—and this premise is what I want to explore with EMA members during our time together in San Diego.
I love what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about associations in his seminal book, Democracy in America. A French civil servant, de Tocqueville came to the U.S. in 1831 to study this new country and uncover our innovative ideas. He published two editions of Democracy in America and wrote extensively about associations, saying, “In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded."
This French civil servant was astonished at the gathering power and energy in this country and our devotion to social philanthropic efforts. He wrote that associations offered this young democracy a tool for strengthening and moderating political and social realms. He also noted that associations ultimately contributed to the public good and worked to improve the lives of American citizens.
Flash forward almost two centuries, and this week in San Diego, more than 1,000 admission and enrollment professionals and school leaders will gather to feel less isolated, to unite over common interests, and to talk (incessantly) about our shared challenges and issues. Through sessions, keynotes, and networking, we hope you will be strengthened by your association with one another and with EMA. Of course the whole point of associations is to “associate” and if de Tocqueville could witness this gathering, he’d be pleased that his words ring true so many years later. Yet, I would also like to suggest that we can all become stronger by association if we decide to work even more collaboratively in the coming years. We’ve already built the connective muscle to do so through the numerous activities which have advanced our community.
For instance, just five years ago, the first EMA think tank began to examine the future of assessment. And just last fall, thanks to the recommendation of that think tank, EMA launched a new online character assessment tool called The Character Skills Snapshot. In its launch year over 16,000 students took The Snapshot and nearly half of EMA’s members opted to receive Snapshot reports! What began in 2013 as a conversation between me and Ray Diffley, then dean of admission at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, rolled into a 32- (and then 48-) school research project which is now serving over half of EMA’s members! All along the way, your community guided the development and design of The Snapshot, collaborating with scientists and researchers to build an innovative new assessment that would offer consistent and fair information about middle and high school students’ character skills. Your purpose was to change the narrative with parents about what matters in our selection process and to “measure what matters” in an equitable way.
Collaborations don’t have to be manifested only among those belonging to EMA, because we are all stronger by association when like-minded organizations choose to partner over shared interests. To that end, look out this fall for numerous articles and webinars on the future of financial aid, co-sponsored with our friends at the National Business Officers Association (NBOA). This idea began as conference session (kicking off in San Diego with a panel of experts), but it quickly grew into a broader shared initiative as NBOA’s Executive Director Jeff Shields and I talked about the wider issues and needs of our respective members. At EMA and NBOA, we are seeing dramatic changes in the financial aid landscape, and our shared project will pull together resources for business and enrollment school leaders, while also asking pertinent questions about where our community is headed with financial aid (and tuition strategy, discounting, pricing…)
Looking to the future, I invite you to share with me YOUR IDEAS on how we might become #StrongerByAssociation. What might we do together to advance our community and bring more students to our doors? How might we work together to solve some of the complex enrollment challenges that we are facing? Together, how can we work with changing family needs and interests in our form of education?
I like to think that we’ve only just begun to build our strength as an association, and I hope that no member of EMA ever feels isolated - you can always turn to a wider community for insight, support, and new thinking. Here’s to a wonderful conference together and to our continued collaboration!