US university mistakenly tells 5,500 students they won huge scholarships

Poindexter, an
18-year-old senior with a 3.8 GPA, thought that perhaps this was the
scholarship he had hoped for from Oakland University.

“You worked hard and
it paid off!” read the Jan. 4 email, informing him that he had won a $48,000
academic scholarship over four years. Poindexter, who wants to be a lawyer, and
his parents were elated.

But then, more than
two hours later, came another email with a subject line that read,

Oakland University —
where the campus extends into two cities, Auburn Hills and Rochester Hills,
each about 30 miles from Detroit — said it mistakenly told 5,500 incoming
students that they had won the scholarships. In-state students pay about
$58,000 in tuition over four years, with room and board costing an additional
$11,192 a year, according to the university.

The university told
students in the follow-up email, “Because you are not a recipient of the
Platinum Presidential Scholar Award, this message was unfortunately sent to you
in error.”

And just like that,
the excitement of thousands of students, including Poindexter, evaporated.

“He was extremely
disappointed, embarrassed, even frustrated because he put in a lot of hard
work,” Poindexter’s mother, Gwen, said Sunday.

Brian Bierley, a
spokesperson for the university, said in a statement that the mistake was “due
to human error.” He added that the students who received the message did not
meet the eligibility requirements for the award.

To qualify for the
Platinum Presidential Scholar Award, incoming students must have had a high
school GPA of at least 3.9 and a score of 1,450 or higher on the SAT, or 33 on
the competing ACT, according to the university. As of this month, 162 students
have qualified for the scholarship, and 62 have accepted.

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The errant email from
Oakland University occurred weeks before another university in Michigan made a
similar mistake.

Central Michigan
University told 58 high school seniors this month that they had won the
Centralis Scholar Award, which would cover their tuition and room and board,
and award them $5,000 to study abroad. But days later, the students were told
that the email was a mistake and that they had not won the prestigious

The university then
told those students that it would still pay their full tuition for four years,
but that they would not receive other perks of the scholarship.

That course
correction led Poindexter’s mother to wonder whether Oakland University would
take steps to make up for its error. She said she understood there was a big
difference between helping 58 students with scholarships and helping 5,500, but
that some type of compensation seemed appropriate for her son and the other
students who got the mistaken emails.

“We saw what happened
with Central Michigan and how they were saying, ‘We are going to own our
mistake,’” she said. “We said, ‘Well, why won’t OU do the same?’”

Bierley said Oakland
University encourages students to “submit updated transcripts and any new test
scores between now and the fall semester to see if they might qualify for
additional scholarships.”

In its apology email
to students, the university said, “We know the college application process is
an extremely stressful time and we are sorry for the added confusion and
disappointment this email has caused.”

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Poindexter’s mother
said what was most dispiriting was seeing her son call friends and family members
to inform them of the mistake. Oakland University had been one of his top
choices, and the prospect of being a Golden Grizzly excited him.

She said her son is
still considering going to Oakland University but will wait to see if other
colleges offer him scholarships.

“Everyone knows,” she
said, “that college is expensive.”

©2022 The New York
Times Company

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