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Show Me the Financial Aid

In perusing the College’s financial aid figures, there is proof to be found for an assertion that we have repeatedly made:

…over the past three years the Admissions department has bent over backwards to protect the College’s yield figures by admitting more students early decision, and also by accepting far more legacies. These two moves, beyond helping the yield, also have had a positive financial impact: students accepted early cannot play off one school against another in negotiating financial aid; for them it’s take it or leave it. And legacies, by and large, have a far greater capacity to pay full freight.

The above table shows that the Trustees have made a similar financial calculation as regards our mix between public and private school admits; students from the latter group are self-evidently wealthier. For the classes between 2007 and 2013, admitted private school students ranged between 32-36% of the freshman class; the last three years have seen a jump to a rock-solid 40%. That consistency sure looks like a quota to me. Of course, you might believe that kids from private schools suddenly got a lot smarter starting in 2010. If so, may I interest you in a bridge?

Once again, the Kim administration chose to play fast and loose with the quality of the College’s incoming students — our lifeblood — for financial gain, rather that dealing with the big bear in the room: our bloated, over-compensated staff.

The Dartmouth Factbook describes how the number of students receiving need-based financial aid has dropped since the Class of 2014, the class year for which the Kim administration made significant, financially motivated decisions regarding the College’s admissions policies (here and here). From a high of 51% in the 2009-2010 academic year, the number of students receiving aid has consistently fallen:

Financial Aid Comp.jpg

Dartmouth Now reported in March that “Forty-six percent [of accepted students in the Class of 2018] have qualified for need-based financial aid,” and Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris has informed me directly that it now appears only 45% of incoming students will receive aid.

The difference between 51% and 45% of students is significant: approximately 260 students over four classes. If this many students no longer receive financial aid — of which the average award is now over $44,000 — the College will take in an extra $11.4 million each year.

Soak the students to feed the staff.

Addendum: I don’t share President Obama’s worries about “the rich,” but if 55% of the College’s incoming students come from families that are able to drop more than a quarter of a million dollars on the education of each of their children, Dartmouth can’t help but have a social atmosphere somewhat divorced from the real world.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in with questions and observations:

As a follow-up to your observation: “…Dartmouth can’t help but have a social atmosphere somewhat divorced from the real world. ” ….

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only alum who has wondered whether the discord and angst that seem to permeate the social atmosphere on campus over the last few years are, at least in part, products of a stark economic divide that separates “the 55%” from the 45% receiving a financial aid package which on average is somewhere north of $42,600 per year.

In my DED role, I have observed that many of the admitted students in our district who come from middle income families, rather than matriculating at the College which offers them only modest need-based financial aid, are choosing to go to schools such as Duke, Wash U, Emory and Vanderbilt which, in many cases, offer them very generous merit scholarships. Others, choose to attend less expensive state schools to preserve financial resources for grad school.

If the data is available, it would be interesting to know how many currently-enrolled students are from what would be considered “middle income” families. (Admittedly, there must be some who account for the average financial aid package not being closer to the actual total cost of one year at Dartmouth.) The absence of a significant number middle income students in the College student body, who might serve as a “buffer,” of sorts, between “the 55%” and those receiving substantial amounts of financial aid, may partially explain the toxic social atmosphere that, of late, seems to be so prevalent.

If my hypothesis has any validity, perhaps Admissions should make some effort to achieve a better economic continuum across the student population…admittedly, a challenge given the demands to maintain revenue while providing meaningful financial aid to a large number of applicants; or (here’s a novel thought) maybe the College could cut administrative costs to make the College more affordable for all.

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