In a Bloomberg article titled Ivy League Alumni Quit Admissions Interviews as Success Slips, Ivy admissions volunteers complain that they have less "influence" than ever in the undergraduate admissions process. They recommend many students for admission, hardly any of whom are selected by the university. According to the article, an alumnus interviewing applicants for the University of Pennsylvania saw
his acceptance rate [fall] in the past five years. None of his recommended students made it in. The frustration was part of the reason he stopped donating to the school a few years ago, he said.
I will refrain from sharing here my thoughts on this donor's logic. Meanwhile, though, the University's web site describes the volunteer's role as "an exceptionally meaningful way" to remain involved with the school. So there's a conflict between the intended outcome (a meaningful way for the alumnus to be involved) and the actual outcome (a disgruntled alumnus publicly criticizing the university).
For several years I was an alumni interviewer for Brown University. As an experienced alumni professional and as an admissions volunteer, I have always been baffled (and frankly, irritated) by alumni who complained that they "didn't get anybody in this year."
The volunteer's job isn't to "get people in." It's to meet candidates and share their impressions with the admissions staff.
The Director of Admissions is the one who "gets people in."
[Alumni interviewing is not really an admissions function...]
A seldom-mentioned aspect of alumni interviewing is that in most cases it's not even an "admissions" function. Alumni admissions work is a volunteer opportunity first and foremost. It keeps alumni engaged with the school, without handing them enough responsibility to make the professional staff uneasy. The biggest risk is that it alienates people like the Penn alumnus quoted above, who think their job is to be an advocate for almost every would-be undergrad they meet.
As volunteer roles go, alumni admissions work has much to recommend it. But institutions should be transparent about just how much influence alumni will have in admission decisions. Failure to lower alumni expectations may contribute to the problem at institutions where alumni are complaining.
[Failure to lower alumni expectations may contribute to the problem...]
Alumni should see the admissions volunteer role as a way to meet smart, ambitious young people in their own community, and to help admissions professionals calibrate their definitive judgment about individual applicants.
Alumni and admissions staff members, for their part, should be honest about the relative importance of alumni interview reports and try to find other, more meaningful volunteer roles for alumni who think of the process as a contest whose goal is to "get kids in."