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Admissions Confusion?

Phil announced yesterday at the faculty meeting, and the College followed up with a press release, that the College’s yield — the number of admitted students who have signaled their desire to matriculate — reached a record 54.5% this year, up from 48.6% last year. In fact, the yield was so high that Maria says that the College won’t need to use the waitlist at all this year. What’s going on?

How is it possible that our yield improved so strikingly after applications dropped by 14% this year? Are applicants thrilled by the first year of Phil Hanlon’s presidency? The past months have hardly been ones to attract students. As we’ve reported, the serial crises have led the national media to paint a Dartmouth rife with sexual assault, racism, political correctness, hazing, and all the other special nasties of modern college life. Certainly, had Admissions’ policies remained unchanged from last year, a large improvement in our yield does not make any sense at all (unless we have attracted a herd of kids for whom a school for scandal is a plus).

There are, however, things that the Admissions department could be doing quietly in the background, foremost among them being what is known as “yield management.” An alumnus reports in from the hinterlands with an oft-heard comment:

One of our interviewers received a preemptive email indicating that the College had accepted a candidate that had been given a “not recommended” rating by the alum. She’s roughly a contemporary of ours and was really shaking her head over the decision. One of the others had met with close to 10 of the candidates and was surprised (not in a good way) about which of the candidates were selected. The “diversity” and “first generation college” cards have seemingly trumped all others.

Another way to describe what my correspondent is seeing is to recount the experience of a neighbor here in France, a brilliant young woman with a particular aptitude in the sciences. With a fine academic record and, despite the fact that French is her native language and she had only spent one year in an English boarding school, she came close to acing the SATs. She applied to a range of top schools, with interesting results: accepted via late-February likely letters at Harvard and Penn; accepted normally at Yale and Stanford; and refused admission at Chicago.

What was Chicago doing? Undoubtedly, given her other results, my neighbor was good enough to be accepted by Chicago, but my surmise is that Chicago thought that she was too good. With an eye on its yield, Chicago declined her application: After all, why accept a kid who was clearly going to go elsewhere? Why accept a kid who would just refuse the university?

To my mind the harsh use of yield management is the only rational explanation for the admissions results that Phil announced yesterday. I mean, it’s not as if in the past year the College has announced brilliant new pedagogical initiatives, the hiring of superstar profs, and exciting changes in campus life. And don’t say that the new Dimensions show and regional alumni events made all the difference. Please. As we have discussed, the truth lies in the opposite direction.

Whether ruthlessly managing the yield is Maria’s doing (I doubt it), or Phil’s (maybe), or the Trustees (probably — they did learn their craft from Wright, Folt and Kim) is unclear, but there is no doubt in my mind that when we experienced the 14% drop in applications last fall, the word went out to Admissions that whether by hook or by crook, we were decidedly not going to see an equivalent fall in our yield. If you have a more rational explanation than that, I’d like to hear it.

Addendum: A number of readers have responded to my request for comment:

It would be interesting to see the financial aid award letters. For all of its faults, Dartmouth is still an excellent school. With that in mind, it is possible that this year’s offers of financial aid were simply too good to pass up - especially given the rise in first generation and minority admits. Not a sound long-term strategy I know, and you may disagree - but at least it is proactive. Many of the issues facing the College will take a long time to resolve. In the meantime, the last thing the school needs at this point is more bad statistics. This is the sort of sketchy, short-term manipulation that I can get behind - haha - but only as a stop-gap measure, and only with an eye towards making real improvements in the future. Some people believe that you have to hit rock bottom before you can see the error of your ways - I am not one of those people. I say stop the bleeding now, acknowledge the problems privately, and get to work on solutions. So, if this was indeed a deliberate effort on the part of the administration to improve yield, I say bravo…… get to work to make sure that such measures are not necessary going forward.

— * —

I wish I had some data to make this point, but I was extremely impressed by the efforts of my regional alumni club to reach out to all admitted students from our district. The Dartmouth Club of the Midwest sent alumni to personally deliver Dartmouth t-shirts to ~25 admitted students in the Twin Cities metro area and to invite them to a reception we held a few weeks ago. It was extremely well attended, by both alums and prospective ’18s. This personal touch does go a long way, especially when faced with bad press telling you Dartmouth is a horrible place with horrible people. Both students to whom I had delivered shirts decided on Dartmouth. I don’t know what exactly goes on with other clubs, but if a dozen alumni clubs make the effort to reach out personally to admitted students, that could have a real tangible effect on 200-300 high schoolers with extremely tough decisions to make.

— * —

Fun Fact: The phenomenon you brought up in this post of refusing admission to qualified students whom the Admissions office has reason to believe will likely gain acceptance to/prefer other colleges is what’s known colloquially as “Tufts Syndrome.”

— * —

Hello Joe, I believe I wrote earlier that I had no problem with the drop in application numbers for the College believing that students are self selecting out (due to bad press etc). If my theory holds true, then the ones who did apply are more likely to come. That combined with a certain amount of sweetening of the pot in the financial aid area would certainly result in higher yield.

— * —

Rational explanation #2: random fluctuations over time. Let’s step back, take a breath, and see what’s going on over several more years. Maybe there is a problem with apps and yields, maybe there isn’t. Too soon to know, Joe. And, as to the trustees managing yield, that’s just ludicrous, Joe. You should know better.

In response to the last comment, “random fluctuations over time” can’t come close to explaining a 14% drop in applications or a record jump in yield. The statistical probability of both these things happening in the same year must be infinitely small; after all, Dartmouth has not had such a large drop in applications in 21 years, and the College’s yield this year is inordinately high. Specific decisions and pressures must be behind this large movements. What these are, we can’t say with certainty, but randomness had nothing to do with it, dearie.


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