Vassar Opts for the One-Way Channel Crisis Response

Poughkeepsie, New York-based liberal arts school Vassar College gave false hope to 76 early-decision applicants on Friday, Jan. 27,  when it erroneously informed them they were accepted to the school—only to tell them later they had been rejected.

When a special site for early decision applicants went live on Jan. 27, it posted mistaken information about the admissions status of 76 applicants during a 30-minute period in which 122 applicants logged on to the site. A little more than two hours after Vassar corrected the error, the college determined who the affected applicants were and apologized to them via e-mail.

Unfortunately, the school took a "get back to us on Monday, we're closed now" approach. According to The New York Times, the e-mail stated, "We apologize sincerely for any confusion or disappointment that this mistake may have caused. If after checking your decision again, you still have questions, please feel free to contact the Admissions Office on Monday morning."

That was it—no phone number, no contact information and no help until Monday. Not exactly a model for good customer service.

While the blunder was technology-based (and, in terms of coverage, benefited from taking place during a slower news cycle late on a Friday afternoon), the unwillingness to be available immediately was not. This was not a time for the communications function to check out for the weekend. A statement was released by Vassar on Jan. 29:  “We are terribly sorry about the confusion and disappointment the erroneous information posted online caused the students...We understand how very upsetting this is for those students who viewed the inaccurate decisions that we posted online, and we are very sorry to have added to the overall stress of the college admissions process for these students and their families.”

Though some parents have requested refunds of application fees, a Vassar spokesperson said that besides Friday’s message, “no other step is in the works,” reported the Times. Over 275 comments have poured in on the Times' story. One commenter wrote, "I've gotten over Vassar's mistake of sending the wrong letter. I understand that accidents happen. However, the way Vassar deliberately treated us is unforgivable."

The best route to forgiveness, in Vassar's case, would have been opening up a two-way communications channel—immediately.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg