Dean of Admissions Karen Richardson announces departure from Tufts

Karen Richardson, Dean of Admissions, poses for a portrait in Bendetson Hall on Apr. 4, 2019. (Dogacan Colak / Tufts Daily)

Karen Richardson, the dean of Admissions since 2016, will leave Tufts to pursue a career as dean of Admission at Princeton University, her alma mater, according to an announcement on Princeton’s website.

Richardson has worked at Princeton before as the assistant dean of Undergraduate Admission from 2002 to 2004, according to the website. The website also states that Richardson focused her time at Princeton on diversity recruitment.

She came to Tufts in 2008 as the director of Diversity Recruitment and moved on to become the director of Graduate Admissions in 2014, according to TuftsNow.

Richardson first came to Tufts after working in the Boston Public Schools, saying that she enjoyed working with Tufts’ Admissions team. Richardson said she appreciated how Tufts thought about admitting students and building a community.

Richardson, who said she is among the first generation in her family to go to college, has worked in education for a number of years, including for Jumpstart and Boston Public Schools. She emphasized how her experience as a first-generation student informed her career.

“Access to education was something that was important to my parents, and they instilled that in us. And I realized that college [was] a transformational experience for me,” she said. “The opportunities that were given to me [in college] … lent [themselves] to the work I decided to do after I got out of college.”

Richardson said her experience in college and her later career paths led her to her becoming passionate about access to education.

“I think it is important to [expose] students to opportunities that they might not know they had,” she said.

Speaking about her career before Tufts, Richardson highlighted her experience as deputy superintendent of family and community engagement for Boston Public Schools. Richardson worked with families throughout the school district to encourage involvement with school councils and parent councils.

“That was an important role for me in that we were trying to encourage more family involvement in the schools,” she said. “I think it’s been very helpful in a career in Admissions, because applying to college and going to college is not just about the individual student; it’s about the family making the decision.”

According to TuftsNow, Richardson developed the Voices of Tufts Diversity Experiences program as director of Diversity Recruitment.

“We wanted the program to be … more academically focused and to be not just a program but an experience where students could get an opportunity to really see if there could be a fit at the university for them,” Richardson said.

In particular, Richardson noted that small groups that are part of Voices allow admissions counselors to meet students, and students who may not have the opportunity to participate in alumni interviews can make an impression on admissions officers.

Richardson applauded that her office has expanded recruitment capabilities during her time at Tufts, becoming a QuestBridge partner school and attending different fairs in locations where students might not know about Tufts.

“One of the important pieces at Tufts … is that recruitment of all students is the responsibility of everyone in our office, because diversity means a lot of different things,” Richardson said. “It’s not just racial and ethnic diversity … it’s also socioeconomic diversity and geographic diversity.”

However, Richardson admitted that Tufts does not always succeed in recruiting students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’re a school that meets 100% of demonstrated need … but we are one of the most selective schools that are need-aware,” Richardson said.

She added that Tufts first reads applications on a need-blind basis, but the final decisions in shaping a class are need-aware. Richardson explained that Tufts is not need-blind due to a lack of money put into financial aid.

“We don’t have a need-blind policy because, honestly, need-blind policies require a lot of money,” she said.

She went on to note the financial difficulties that similar schools which are need-blind face.

“Tufts has not wanted to … be that place, because you see so many schools that are need-blind, and then they have to pull back because they don’t have the funding.”

According to Richardson, prior to her appointment as director of Graduate Admissions in 2014, Tufts did not have an office that dealt specifically with admitting graduate students.

“Basically, we redid a totally different application, and we made the application processing more efficient. So we standardized a lot of things across the departments [and] made the turnaround time a lot quicker from application to decision-making to the applicant finding out,” she said.

Richardson also noted that she and her team participated in recruitment programs for Tufts’ graduate schools at other colleges.

Becoming dean of Undergraduate Admissions was a welcome change for Richardson, although she said she did enjoy directing Graduate Admissions.

“I missed the culture of Undergraduate Admissions — the fact that, in Undergraduate Admissions, you interact with students and families and college counselors,” Richardson said. “I think it took me back to this idea [of] access to education and the fact that I believe in the power of education and the power of this college admissions process.”

Richardson explained that she enjoyed how transparent Tufts is to parents and students with regard to the university’s application process, highlighting programs such as admissions panels, where students can participate.

Richardson also expressed appreciation for her team — a third of whom, she says, are Tufts alumni.

“I think one of the things I like most about the Admissions team is that everyone works hard and everyone is always willing to pitch in,” she said. “I feel like our staff embodies what Tufts hopes the student body will be like — collaborative, engaged, wicked smart [and] never arrogant.”

Remarking on specific people who were important to her, Richardson said Susan Ardizzoni, director of Undergraduate Admissions, provided her with the professional knowledge of Tufts needed to be a good partner.

According to Richardson, Tufts acquired the School for the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) as one of its schools on the first day of her job as dean of Undergraduate Admissions. She expressed gratitude for the SMFA admissions team, saying that, although changes to their reading process have been challenging, the two campuses are working together.

Richardson noted that the accepted Class of 2023 is the most racially diverse in Tufts’ history.

In an email to the Daily, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser celebrated Richardson’s achievements during her time at Tufts.

“Karen has been instrumental in enhancing our admissions processes, building and leading an accomplished team of admissions professionals, integrating the SMFA at Tufts into the recruitment plan, and — very importantly — increasing diversity at Tufts,” Glaser said.

Jianmin Qu, dean of the School of Engineering, echoed Glaser’s sentiments, noting in particular the increased enrollment of women in the School of Engineering.

“Karen has had a substantial impact on Tufts and has overseen some truly remarkable accomplishments, such as attracting a record number of applications and enrolling first-year engineering classes recently that are near gender parity,” he said.

Richardson said she looks forward to her new position at Princeton.

“It’s not great timing, honestly, [but] the opportunity at Princeton was one I could not pass up,” Richardson said.

According to Richardson, her work-study job at Princeton was in their Admission department.

Richardson emphasized that she appreciated the opportunity to give back to her alma mater and give students access to education at a prestigious university.

“The fact that it was offered to me, I’m humbled and thrilled to be able to take this on as my next adventure,” she said.

Glaser added in the email that he expects to find a new dean by the beginning of the next school year.

“The search process is already underway for a replacement. We’ve secured a search firm to assist us and are putting together a broad-based search committee that will include staff, faculty, alumni and an undergraduate student,” he said.