When students start sending early applications to colleges this fall, college counselors and admission professionals will be guided by a new code of ethics. But at least one advisor says the changes may not always be to the benefit of students and their families.

Joe Messinger, co-founder and director of college planning at Capstone Wealth Partners, said the changes create an environment where it is up to the consumer to make an informed college buying decision. “These are interesting times for higher education and this marks a historic time when even the U.S. Justice Department is stepping in to try and level the playing field," he wrote in his blog.

The changes, he said, may leave students and their families vulnerable to pressure from "unscrupulous colleges."

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), during its 75th National Conference in Louisville, Ky., voted to eliminate several provisions from its Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP) that the U.S. Department of Justice deemed unfair.

The Justice Department opened the antitrust investigation into the NACAC two years ago amid concerns that the organization violated federal antitrust laws and limited students from getting the best price for their college education

The new ethics code, which went into effect a few weeks ago, addressed incentives for early decision applicants, recruiting first-year undergraduates who have committed elsewhere and recruiting transfer students.

The first provision removed stated that colleges will be barred from offering incentives, such as the promise of special housing, scholarships or enhanced financial aid packages, exclusive to students applying or admitted under an early-decision application plan.

The NACAC board also deleted a section that said, “Once students have committed themselves to a college, other colleges must respect that choice and cease recruiting them.” The Justice Department argued this prevents colleges from making competing, lower-cost offers to students who have already accepted offers from other schools.

May 1 has historically been the point at which commitments to enroll become final, and colleges must respect that, with some exceptions, such as when students themselves seek out competing offers, according to the new code.

By opening the door for colleges to try to win over students who have nominally already made their selections, the code changes could mean families will be under more pressure from colleges, Messinger said.

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