Jose Antonio Bowen, the new president of Goucher College. (Handout photo )
Goucher College sent congratulatory emails to the parents of 60 applicants on March 12 telling them their children had been admitted.
The message from the small liberal arts college in Towson contained the words every parent of a high school senior likes to get: Your "offer of admission was mailed today, but I wanted to let you know the good news now, so that your family can celebrate tonight."
Except that after celebrating that night, the families learned the next day that the admission message was a mistake and that the students had not been accepted.
Goucher realized the error when the director of admissions, Carlton E. Surbeck III, received calls from students who said they had received emails of acceptance and letters of rejection and wanted to know which was accurate.
He then sent another email, explaining the mix-up and apologizing.
"I regret Goucher is not able to offer" a place in its freshman class to the applicants, the email said, and Surbeck wished them well on their child's "post-secondary plans."
Goucher is now doing a second review of those applicants and may admit some.
Michael O'Leary, Goucher's vice president for enrollment management, said the problem stemmed from human error. An employee created a data file to be sent out to recently accepted students that also contained the emails of 17 students who were wait-listed and 43 who were rejected.
Admissions office mistakes are not unheard of, particularly since colleges have begun sending emails to applicants. Last month, MIT put a line at the end of some emails suggesting that the recipients had been admitted when they hadn't. On Dec. 13, Fordham University sent out 2,500 emails of congratulations to students who had been deferred or rejected, according to The New York Times. And in 2012, both Vassar College and the University of California, Los Angeles, had to apologize for saying they had accepted students they had either intended to wait-list or hadn't made a decision about.
Some colleges have been contrite. MIT's admissions officer, Chris Peterson, writing on a blog post, begged forgiveness. Vassar's president wrote an apology, published in The New York Times, to the 76 students it had mistakenly admitted. It didn't get them into Vassar, though.
O'Leary said Goucher felt there was only one course of action. "You own the mistake, you apologize for it," he said. "You do what is right by way of the families. Every one of the files is being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. I know some of the decisions will change. I don't have a final count."
O'Leary said the institution does not want to accept students who it believes will not be successful because those students are then being set up for failure. At the same time, he said, there may be some students who can be accepted. "If there is a way for us to make good, I want to do that," he said.
The college had already accepted 2,413 students for a class that it hoped would be between 425 and 450. The number of entering freshmen in the fall may be slightly larger than the admissions office had anticipated.
This is the second time in five years the college has mistakenly told students they were admitted. In 2009, O'Leary said, the financial aid office sent out letters congratulating students on their admission even though they had been rejected. He said he didn't know how many students were affected in that case.
The admissions office has received about 20 phone calls from parents, some of whom were upset and others who weren't, O'Leary said. In some subsequent phone conversations, he said, tempers have been calmed.
The mistake was made at the very end of the admissions process this year. Those offered admission last week were part of a pool of candidates who had applied late or a portion of their application, such as a recommendation, had been missing.
He said the mistake represented just 2 percent of the applicant pool, although it is "still an important part of the applicant pool."