Admission Lessons from Mount St. Mary’s

Vol. 14 No. 8

admissions eletter Vol14 No8 sadstudent

Last month, we spoke to lessons that School Heads could take away from the recent Mount St. Mary’s University debacle, which included students compared to bunnies that needed “Glocks put to their heads” and suspect dismissal of tenured teachers. School Heads aren’t the only administrators who can learn from this dramatic story, though. In fact, Admission Directors probably could have helped avert the entire problem before it exploded in catastrophic waves for the entire Mount St. Mary’s community.

In Three Lessons Mount St. Mary’s Can Teach Private School Heads, we discuss former-President Newman’s disdain for the students taught at Mount St. Mary’s University. In an open letter from university alumni to the Board of Trustees, the alumni relate an occasion during which Newman openly expressed his derision for current students. The letter says that Newman believed “many Mount St. Mary’s students had ‘bad attitudes,’ were ‘judgmental,’ and did ‘not feel very good about themselves.’”

Most schools would not describe mission-appropriate students as these sullen caricatures of young adults that Newman related to alumni (and potential donors). No President should ever think so little of the students he or she leads to openly disparage them to others, let alone the school’s community stakeholders. Newman let down the community that depended on him to be the face of the university’s advancement plans.

Still, it’s hard to dismiss all of the former president’s criticisms. At the heart of the controversy that inspired Newman’s “Glock” comment was a (failed) plan to use freshmen onboarding surveys as a way to more quickly identify at-risk students and encourage them to leave before federal reports were due. (This would artificially enhance the school’s retention rate by a projected 4-5%.)

Barring sudden tragedies, it is unusual that mission-appropriate students would depart from Mount St. Mary’s campus in enough numbers to have the Board of Trustees (and its employee, the President) so concerned about the attrition rate. This situation implies that the school was not accepting mission-appropriate students at the start, and then not correctly supporting admitted students through their academic journey.

While former-President Newman sought to limit the inappropriate students’ impact on the university’s reports after their admission to the school, perhaps the school should have focused on better winnowing out inappropriate students at the start.

From an admission perspective, the true solution to the attrition problem lies (at least in part) in effectively evaluating students for their potential to succeed before they step onto campus, rather than retroactively attempting to “cull” inappropriate students from the school population.

Therefore, your job as Admission Director should be to maintain the quality—as well as the quantity—of students accepted, no matter the sort of external pressures others may exert. Wise administrators understand that consistently admitting inappropriate students to solve immediate fiscal issues will lead to long-term instability of the school’s culture, eroding the educational opportunities promised by the mission to future students.

In the end, Mount St. Mary’s University may have accepted the short-term solution for budget problems by admitting inappropriate students, which led to former-President Newman’s acidic derision of the current student population. With proper management and a little luck, this public relations nightmare of a toxic culture can be reversed—but the whole situation might have been avoided had the Admission Office been better supported to admit only mission-appropriate students.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 14 No. 7 Three Lessons Mount St. Mary's Can Teach Private School Heads
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 7 When the School Head Is the Problem

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 30 No. 13 The Comprehensive Admission Model

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