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Why The 14% Drop? (1/2)

A two-part series: Part 1, Part 2.

Applications Data 2014 Comp.jpgLet’s get analytical about the theories flying about as to why admissions applications to the College dropped by a hefty 14% this year, when all of the Ivies were up, some of them substantially (save for a 2% drop at Harvard and a 1.5% drop at Columbia). As Bloomberg noted, 14% is the single biggest year-on-year admissions decline at Dartmouth in 21 years, and the only reduction in applicants in the previous decade other than last year’s 3% decrease. So what caused the change? The College put forth several justifications, and Dartblog’s readers have not been shy in advancing their own ideas. Let’s review the College’s thoughts first:

Hanover’s rural location. This point was mentioned in the College’s silly press release, and Phil noted it during his remarks at the recent Club Officers meetings. Uh, Phil, this is a transparently bad explanation. For example, although Cornell is only about an hour’s drive from beautiful Syracuse, it is, in fact, almost four hours from NYC and from Philadelphia. Dartmouth is two hours from Boston. I don’t think that several thousand people only realized this ground truth last year, after ignoring it for decades.

The cold New Hampshire winter. The winters were cold in Hanover over the last 245 years, and they were cold between 2004 and 2012, too, when the number of applicants to the College doubled. Phil, You embarrass yourself and the College when you mention this fact as an explication for institutional failure.

The demographic shift of the American population towards the Southwest. Geez, the College might as well mention the shifting of the tectonic plates as a rationalization for the 14% drop, too. Did New England lose 14% of its population this year? Why would the slight annual movement of Americans to the Southwest affect us more than the rest of the Ivies, all of whom, I’m told, are also located in depopulating New England.

Frankly, these three explanations don’t even meet the straight-face test. You could just as well cite global warming, sunspots, El Niňo, the bad economy and the dysfunctional Congress as reasons for Dartmouth’s declining number of applications. When you have a consistent pattern of behavior under given conditions, and then the behavior changes markedly even though the conditions in question remain the same, it is a pretty good assumption that the unvarying conditions did not cause the change. Who came up with these ideas? Maria and the folks in admissions?

The only plausible explanation for such nonsense is that the above points are reasons why people, in general, might not apply to Dartmouth — that is, year in and year out, these observations might explain why people would choose to go to other schools. But they are in no way relevant to why we had a unique-in-the-Ivies 14% decline in admissions this year. Why did so many people, who would ordinarily have applied to the College this past year, not apply? That’s the question Phil and Maria should be trying to answer.

We’ll move on to intellectually valid explanations tomorrow.

Addendum: A reader wrote in to note that Phil also mentioned, “the rising popularity of pre-professional programs in the wake of the financial crisis, that may be playing a substantial role” in the decline of applications to the College. Given the College’s fine Economics department, and the fact that other Ivies have not lost applicants to such programs, we can consign this argument to the dustbin of history, too.

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