After 12 year as Penn’s dean of admissions, Eric J. Furda C’87 will be stepping down in December. The University announced Furda’s decision in June. “Eric’s work at Penn has been exceptional,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett Gr’97 in a statement. “Under his visionary and strategic leadership, the diversity and academic excellence of our classes have grown each year. Among his many achievements, Eric has been instrumental in supporting our priority of bringing more low-income, first-generation students to Penn,” they continued, noting that 20 percent of the incoming class qualifies for Pell Grants (which typically implies an annual family income of less than $60,000).
“I started during an economic collapse and am ending during a pandemic,” Furda told the Gazette in July, reflecting on the generation of undergraduates he helped to shepherd into Penn. “These young people I’ve been interacting with, that’s what’s shaped their lives: economic convulsion, awareness of global issues like environment and war. These are heavy issues, and they are still growing up and still hopefully having a sense of childhood, but this is a group with a big awareness of what’s going on in the world and how it will impact their future. And that has shaped their sense of what needs to be done, and what is just and right, and what difference they want to make—and that comes through in their applications.”
Furda, who plans to become a college counselor at the private school his children attend (William Penn Charter School), credited the principles of Gutmann’s Penn Compact as the driving force of his tenure. “Civic engagement is at the core of a Penn education, and the Franklin idea of education. And I think what Penn has to offer is the reason why applications go up in a lot of ways—it’s not just the race to apply to a lot of places, but what we have to offer in terms of values of civic engagement. That’s what really resonates.”
The University will form an advisory committee to guide the search for a successor. Asked about the challenges he or she can expect to face, Furda cited the rising cost of a college education, recent disruptions to practices around standardized testing, and shifting ideas about how learning relates to jobs and careers.
“Admissions is a process with a toolbox that’s not precise,” he said. “People want predictability: given Input A and Input B, what is the result? But selective admissions doesn’t look like that, and is under scrutiny. The challenge is how you can explain what you’re trying to achieve in terms of assembling a community of learners. For practitioners of admissions—particularly amid disruptions to testing and K-12 education—the question is how you identify potential and promise, as a student and as a person, in people who are going to be in your community. It’s not just a matter of having a 4.2 GPA and a perfect score on the ACT. It’s figuring out how to identify young people who will bring vibrancy and inquisitiveness to your community.” —TP