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The Consequences of Ending Need-Blind Admissions For International Students

During his last spasm of spending, even as the financial markets (and the College’s endowment) went into freefall, Jim Wright announced on January 22, 2008 that Dartmouth would extend need-blind admissions to international students:

Starting immediately with the Class of 2012, the College will extend its need-blind admissions policy to all international students. Previously the College was need-blind for students from the U.S. as well as those from Canada and Mexico and provided financial aid to other international students up to a preset budget maximum. This cap will now be lifted and Dartmouth will join a very small group of schools that have a fully need-blind admissions process for international students.

The “very small group of schools” included HYP, MIT and Amherst. Actually, despite Wright’s profligate ways, this is good company to be in, given that these five schools are all in the Top Ten list of institutions with the highest endowment per student (we are #11, far above the remaining Ivies).

Now that we have decided to quit this club, what will the impact be of ending the College’s policy of need-blind admissions for international students? Let’s look at the numbers before we get to that question.

International students, including excellent Canadian hockey players (men and women), have made up 7-9% of the student body over the past five years. That figure jumped from 5% in 2005 — before Wright’s change of policy:

International Students 2015.jpg

Internationals make up about 20% of the College’s total pool of approximately 20,000 applicants:

International Student Profile 2015B.jpg

The figure of 7-9% of matriculating international students works out to be 80-98 students in each freshman class of about 1,100 students:

International Student Profile 2015C.jpg

Doing the simple math, you can derive that internationals have over twice as hard a time being accepted by the College as North Americans — according to my sources, usually only 5% of international applicants get into Dartmouth.

By ending need-blind admissions, we can expect a series of consequences:

First off, the College will be seen publicly as pulling back from its effort to attract the world’s finest students. That goal should be the very heart of our admissions effort. It obviously isn’t any more, and high school counselors and families everywhere will certainly take note, not to mention our peer schools.

As a result of the change in policy, we can expect that the number of international students applying to the College will drop significantly. Only students abroad whose family can anticipate spending over a quarter of a million dollars for a Dartmouth education will apply. With a drop in applications (how many? maybe a couple of thousand? that’s 10% of the applicant pool.), then our acceptance rate will rise (the number of accepted students as a percentage of applicants), thereby putting pressure on our U.S. News ranking. Did Admissions think of that when they decided to save a little money (and perhaps reduce their workload of applications to be read)?

In addition, our international rankings will fall even further. In the most recent QS World University Rankings 2015/16, we were #158. The other Ivies ranked as follows: #2 Harvard; #11 Princeton; #12 Yale; #17 Cornell; #18 Penn; #22 Columbia; #49 Brown. It sure looks like we are a regional school. Is that status the extent of our ambition?

Finally, from a management perspective, the administration is communicating by its choice in this instance that it has no intention at all of cutting the bloated bureaucracy (447 additional staffers over the past five years versus 36 new professors). Phil is telling us that on his watch, when money needs to be saved, it will come from budget lines like student financial aid, and not from layoffs of the massive, growing staff. Is spending on financial aid really the College’s very lowest priority?

If it is, then heaven help us.

Addendum: In Tuesday’s D, Michael Beechert presented a well written summary of various arguments against ending need-blind admissions for internationals. I particularly liked his following observation:

Interim dean of admissions and financial aid Paul Sunde inexplicably stated that shifting to a “need-aware” policy was part of an effort to stabilize international enrollment and develop a more “robust” class. If “stable” and “robust” are used in a purely socioeconomic sense, then this might be true, but I suspect that the admissions office simply dipped into the well-used bag of administrative platitudes when crafting its statement. Appeals to enhanced diversity are nonsensical on their face — there is no conceivable way that a smaller and more homogeneous applicant pool could yield a more diverse class.

When a stupid decision is followed by a stupid justification, there is only one conclusion to draw about the administration.

Addendum: A wit has a comment:

At least now we’ll know that all foreign kids come from rich families.

Addendum: Today’s D has another column critical of the end of need-blind admissions for internationals, this one by Reem Chamseddine ‘17. And three students in the Opinion section of The D were unanimous in their criticism of the decision.


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