By Jody Gordon, AACRAO Managing Consultant
I sat down recently (virtually over Zoom of course) with Michele Sandlin, a lifer so to speak of AACRAO. Michele has been in the profession of higher education now for over 43 years, serving at several institutions for 30+ years before joining AACRAO Consulting 13 years ago as the Managing Consultant. I asked her to reflect upon her vast career and to ask her if she really is retiring after all these years. Well, maybe she’s not just yet…
Looking back over your career of 30+ years at several higher education institutions and an additional 13 years with AACRAO Consulting, what have been some of the most rewarding (or memorable) experiences?
A few of my many career highlights:
I loved my first 30 years working on campuses. The work we do on campuses is so rewarding. There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than seeing a student who you helped enroll at your institution walk across the stage at graduation. I would get the “tingles” at every start of the academic year at convocation, that excitement of watching new students begin their college careers was something I looked forward to every year.
I had the opportunity as the Chair of the North America International Baccalaureate (IB) Recognition Board, to work with our South American colleagues to build pilot IB programs in Costa Rica. This was a challenging endeavor, but the dedication of the Costa Rican government's educational leaders wanting this opportunity for their students was so admirable. Also, while working with IB, I had the opportunity to travel to Segovia, Spain to help the country host the second global IB diploma student conference modeled after the original conference I co-chaired in Oregon.
I was fortunate to lead an AACRAO delegation of North American enrollment experts to work with Australian universities in 2013. This was in partnership with and at the request of the Australian government. The goal was to assist universities in meeting national access and persistence goals for Aboriginal students. It was truly a life-changing experience.
A very cool experience was when AACRAO Consulting partnered with our United Kingdom sister association, the Association of University Administrators (AUA) in London, England, in 2017-18. We helped AUA build a consulting wing within their association. They now have a robust consulting arm to assist and support UK colleges and universities.
And I have to highlight the many, many higher education institutions I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from as a consultant. When the AACRAO Consultants gather at conferences to catch up, tell stories of projects, and prepare for the coming year, what we always shared was how much, even as the experts in our fields, we learn something new from each and every institution we work with. The learning curve never stops!
What advice do you have for younger professionals especially those coming into the work of higher education admissions?
Get involved with an association, find a good mentor, and volunteer! For me and many of my dear colleagues over the years our careers grew and expanded when we got involved. We learned more about our profession, were more informed and not only stayed current but we were ahead of the curve and thus able to better serve and meet the needs of our students, our institutions, our profession, and ourselves.
What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
Being able to golf on weekdays! I have a stack of books I’m excited to have time to read.
I will be donating time to the Democratic party in support of affordable access to higher education, women, and LGBTQ+ rights. I’ll also be volunteering as a “kitten mother” to a cat adoption agency where I adopted my beautiful Tortie cat LeeLoo.
I know everyone always plans travel to exotic locations when they retire, but after 30 years of traveling extensively worldwide, particularly the last 12+ years with AACRAO, which I totally loved, enjoyed, and was a highlight of my career, I would like to be home more, enjoy my mortgage and my life here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m looking forward to spending days in museums, art galleries, going to the theatre, and exploring locally.
What will you miss in retirement?
Oh, that’s easy, I’m going to miss my colleagues, this profession, and the lifelong friendships I’ve made/enjoyed throughout my career. In my last month of working full-time it hit me pretty hard about that loss even though I can still reach out easily via the power of the internet, but it will be different.
I have had a job for 55 years of my 66+ years of being alive. I came from a lower income family of 8 and began working at age 11. I was the first child in my family to go to college and get a degree. I worked a job throughout my college years as an undergraduate in order to pay for tuition, fees, and my room and board. Of course, it was easier to do that back then when higher education was mostly state and federally subsidized/supported and understood/recognized as vital for the American economy and the jobs of the future.
When I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 1979 tuition and fees were about $200 a year at my state university alma mater to the student. That’s about equal to $1,000 in today’s dollars. A current student going to my alma mater today pays more than $12,000 a year, which is 12 times more in today’s dollars.
I regret that I’m leaving when this is still the case. I would’ve liked to retire at a time when I could say that higher education and academia got the support and funding needed from our state and federal government representatives. My hope is that will turn around in the future and more students will have access and the opportunity to go to college and achieve their dreams.
Are you really retiring?
Well, yes and no. I am retiring but in the fall I’ll return to do some part-time Senior Consulting work for AACRAO. I will truly be part-time and concentrating in the area of holistic/equity admissions. This has been a 20-year passion of mine which I helped develop and have been the lead for AACRAO’s holistic/equity admissions/persistence methodology. There has been an understandable pause in this area since last fall with the current case before the Supreme Court, SFFA v. Harvard/University of North Carolina, but as the decision nears colleges and universities are ramping up efforts. We are seeing an increase in institutions looking for race-neutral non-cognitive measures to include in their admissions decisions that are research-based, legally compliant, and have repeatedly shown as strong predictors of retention, persistence, and completion.
I want to thank AACRAO for the amazing work experience these past 13 years, and to the four institutions I worked at in Colorado and Oregon during my 30 years of working on campuses. And a heartfelt thank you to the many, many colleagues, friends, around the world that I’ve worked with and met that made my 43 years working in higher education so deeply rich and meaningful.
I know I speak for all of us at AACRAO, we wish you well in your retirement Michele and we thank you for your many years of service.