Back when this issue was first raised publicly in a Wall Street Journal article, I expected CASE to just say that seniors should be counted as students, since they were (at least mostly) students for most of the fiscal year and only alumni at the end.
But CASE didn't say that. Instead, they said that institutions were free to count them either as students or as alumni, subject to the reasonable proviso that if you counted graduating senior donors as alumni, you also had to count all graduating seniors as alumni.
There is no requirement to "justify" treating graduated seniors who graduate during a reporting year as alumni for that year. Each institution is free to do so at their sole discretion. Institutions with a strong senior giving program are likely to increase their alumni participation rate, at least marginally, by electing to treat current-year graduates as alumni rather than as students. Since alumni participation is a measure of educational quality in the U.S. News undergraduate ratings, and since the scoring on those ratings is often very compressed so that small differences in the raw score can affect an institution's rating, it is the case that including graduating students as alumni might benefit a measure that institutions care about. Electing that approach would, of course, lower the rate of student giving, which would be a contrary consideration, for any institutions that care as much about student participation.
If CASE had said that graduating seniors should be counted as students, I'd be right there encouraging that the standards be followed. Since CASE didn't say that, I guess that I'd encourage institutions to make the election that they decide serves them best, rather than that they necessarily follow the standard that I'd rather CASE had adopted, but did not.
My US$0.02 worth; the usual disclaimers apply.
Alan S. Hejnal
Data Quality Manager
Smithsonian Institution - Office of Advancement
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