After a three-month search, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business today (May 4) reached into the admissions office of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business for its new executive director of admissions and financial aid.
Luke Anthony Peña, who has been the GSB’s director of MBA admissions since October of 2015, will take over his job in Hanover, N.H., on July 18, a time when virtually all the admissios decisions for the incoming classes will be done at both Tuck and Stanford. In hiring Peña, Tuck is bringing to its campus a person who is so highly passionate about the transformative powers of higher education that he paid no heed to the lucrative offers of VC firms and consulting shops when he graduated from Stanford with his own MBA five years ago.
Though he brings with him a total of nine years of admissions experience, Peña will have his hands full. He will be succeeding Dawna Clarke, who had established Tuck’s adcom group as the most customer friendly of any elite business school. Under Clarke, who led the school’s admissions efforts for 11 years, Tuck had been consistently named as the school that best got to know its applicants. Clarke stepped down from the job in November of 2016 to launch her own admissions consulting firm.
‘LUKE STOOD OUT WITHIN A DEEP AND HIGHLY-QUALIFIED POOL’
Peña was chosen for the position after what the school called a “comprehensive” search chaired by Gina Clark des Cognets T’01, chief of staff and executive director of the Office of the Dean at Tuck. “Luke stood out within a deep and highly-qualified pool of candidates as the collaborative and strategic leader we sought to lead our dynamic admissions team forward,” said des Cognets in a statement. “His energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and we look forward to working alongside him on behalf of Tuck.”
As the new leader of Tuck’s admissions team, Peña will lead the school’s admissions and financial aid teams and develop and implement strategies for recruiting, selecting, and enrolling MBA candidates. Last year, 2,623 candidates applied to the school’s two-year MBA program. Some 22.4% of them, 588, were accepted and Tuck enrolled a class of 285 students. At Stanford, where Peña worked directly under admissions chief Derrick Bolton, he helped to process more than three times as many applications—8,116—for a class that numbered 417. He also was one of the school’s admissions road warriors, traveling more than 150,000 miles a year to spread the message about Stanford’s MBA program.
Peña’s boss left MBA admissions last September to take on a new Stanford University assignment as dean of admissions for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. The GSB named Bolton’s successor in March, appointing Kirsten Moss as the new assistant dean and director of MBA admissions and financial aid, effective June 1. At one point, between 2009 and 2010, Moss had Peña’s job at the GSB and had also been managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School for two years between 1999 and 2001.
TAKING OVER THE MOST TRANSPARENT AND WELCOMING ADMISSIONS GROUP
At Tuck, the big question is whether Peña will continue to run Tuck’s office with significantly more transparency and the welcoming style that characterized the Clarke years. Tuck Dean Matthew J. Slaughter appears to have little doubt that would change. “Luke’s expertise in MBA admissions—together with his wonderful warmth and creativity—will ensure Tuck is successful in welcoming even more…students into our community,” says Slaughter. Peña, moreover, believes that admissions’ most critical role centers on community building.
Yet, Clarke set the standard in elite MBA admissions. During her 11-year stint, Clarke’s most notable achievement was to make MBA admissions at Tuck the most transparent and user friendly in the world. When Poets&Quants surveyed 50 leading admissions consulting firms three years ago, no business school got more favorable reviews. They singled out Tuck as the school with the most transparent admissions policies, beating out No. 2 Harvard Business School by a two-to-one margin.
And when it came to knowing the MBA applicant pool best–and therefore being in an ideal position to evaluate and judge prospective students–the Tuck admissions team toppled every other school again. Duke was second, while Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management was third. Those findings have been confirmed by other surveys done by AIGAC, the association of international graduate admissions consultants.
ONE CHALLENGE: A MUCH SMALLER POOL OF SCHOLARSHIP MONEY
One challenge awaiting Peña is the much smaller pool of scholarship money available at Tuck to lure the best MBA applicants to the program. At Stanford, financial aid resources nearly rival the unusually generous amounts at Harvard Business School where the average annual fellowship per MBA student is now $35,571.
Peña cut his teeth in admissions as an assistant director of admissions at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He took that job in September of 2006, shortly after graduating from USC with a bacehlor’s degree in public relations. In his graduation year, Peña was named public relations student of the year.
Then, in 2010, he waa admitted into Stanford for a dual degree MBA and master’s in education. For three months before he began his MBA, Peña was an education pioneers fellow for Envision Schools, a non-profit charter school management group based in Oakland, CA. Armed with his two Stanford degrees in 2012, he immediately joined the GSB’s admissions staff, first as an associate director from July of 2012 to October of 2015, and then as director of MBA admissions to the present.
HIS PASSION FOR HIGHER EDUCATION IS EVIDENT IN HIS FACEBOOK FEED
In that later role, Peña led the GSB’s marketing and recruitment teams, and managed all external outreach including events, online programming, and social media. Tuck credited Peña with introducing and implementing “data analytics to enhance recruitment and yield efforts, and created digital resources to improve relationship management with both alumni ambassadors and prospective students.”
On his Facebook feed, Peña’s passion for higher education is evident. He often refers to articles published on Inside HigherEd, more often than not referring friends and colleagues to stories on community colleges and access to higher education. The last article he cited, The Atlantic’s “How the Internet Wrecked College Admissions,” carried this comment: “Succinct and digestible account of the arms race in selective #highered admissions.”
His belief in the transformational power of higher education occured early in his life. HIs mother was a non-traditional college student, going back to school in her mid-30s when Pena was all of 12 years old. For a year, he lived with her on campus in Phoenix, Arizona.