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The Zitzewitz Files: SAT Scores

I would classify Economics Professor Eric Zitzewitz’ presentation at the faculty meeting on June 1 as slyly subversive. The ostensible topic of the report of the Committee on the Faculty was professors’ compensation by the College, but Zitzewitz went further afield and released a great deal of interesting data. In the part of his presentation where he made the case for benchmarking, he let us know the effect of Jim Kim’s manipulation of admissions standards in his search for additional revenue. Rather than reporting on SAT scores themselves, the data-crunching professor looked at the College’s SAT score rank versus other institutions. His first slide looked (slyly) at only the 2001-2008 period:

SAT 2001-2008 Comp.jpg

Good results. There was a decline at the start of the Wright years, but our SAT rank remained consistent from year to year, and more or less consistent with the College’s U.S. News national ranking. But then Jim Kim arrived and the search was on for more money. As we have reported in the past, three major changes took place on Kim’s watch: significantly more Early Decision applicants, legacies, and private schools students were granted admission (all of these groups can be counted upon, on average, to need less financial aid than other students). What Zitzewitz showed was that Kim & Co.’s policies lowered the College’s SAT scores relative to schools with whom we compete:

SAT 2001-2013 Comp.jpg

Ouch. From a rank around 11th, we dropped to the mid-teens or worse. Obviously, when it came time to choose quality over money, Kim chose money every time.

Though he did not evoke EVP Rick Mills’ favorite metaphor — the Red Queen hypothesis — Zitzewitz also pointed out that even as Jim Kim chose to have the College’s relative SAT scores decline, other schools with whom we compete for the best students, were making serious efforts to better themselves:

SAT v. Other Schools Comp.jpg

And so it goes.

Addendum: It takes a certain amount of work to come up with these stats. If you just look at the College’s raw numbers, all might seem well in Hanover, until you also analyze the performance of schools who are trying hard to improve (unlike Dartmouth):

SAT Raw Scores Comp.jpg

The point is not to remain static, but to gain ground. As the French saying goes, Qui n’avance pas, recule. If you ain’t going forward, you are probably going backwards.


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