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Our Applications Don’t Keep Pace

Dartmouth Class of 2020 data.jpgThe French aphorism qui n’avance pas recule — if you are not improving, you are declining — applies to the College’s Class of 2020 application numbers. All of the Ivies who have released figures saw their applicant figures grow by anywhere from 3.98% to 7.41%, whereas the total number of applications to the College was flat at +0.21%. How to explain such a lackluster performance compared to all our peers? Dartmouth Class of 2020.jpg

We have been in admissions trouble for a few years now. Applications rose each year through the Class of 2016, but then they dropped by 2.95% for the Class of 2017 and by a headline-making 14% for the ‘18’s. The Class of 2019 then recorded a jump of 6.6%. Short of polling seniors who chose not to apply to the College this past fall, we’ll have to limit ourselves to some hypotheses as to why our results are so weak:

General Decline: The College has the odor of rot about it these days. A series of weak Presidents, the marked drift in emphasis away from our strength as an undergraduate-focused research college towards post-docs and a graduate school, and an overall absence of good news have not earned us front-of-mind position with college counselors and high school seniors. A steadily declining U.S. New ranking (last year’s #12 was our worst position ever) would seem to confirm the qualitative perception of decline among real-world observers.

Scandal After Scandal: The BLM library invasion was just the latest in a series of ugly scandals to tarnish the College’s reputation as a serious institution, and coming as it did on November 12, in the heart of the application season, one can understand if many of the nation’s top seniors chose to look elsewhere. Sure Yale and Princeton had their moments, but their political protests did not have the ugly dimension of taking place in the library and involving student-on-student conflict.

Ending Need-Blind Admissions for Internationals: On September 16 this space broke the story that the College was no longer going to evaluate Canadian, Mexican and other foreign applicants on a need-blind basis, as it does for Americans and undocumented aliens. That move sent a message to everyone abroad — except the wealthy, of course — that foreign applicants were not going to be evaluated solely on their merits. I expected that a good many of the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to study for free decided not the apply to the College this year — but that expectation was wrong. Interim Dean of Admissions Paul Sunde responded to my question about admissions by stating that:

There was no specific demographic that did notably better or worse than last year. There were relatively small variations, but all were within the normal range of year-to-year variation.

Which means that the drop in international applications will have to wait until next year. Oh joy.

The upshot of our poor admissions performance will be a decline this year in our yield relative to the other Ivies: they will accept even fewer applicants as a % of their total applicant pool than we will. Yield being a component of the U.S. News standings, we can expect yet another rankings hit in the next year of two — which will lead to a further relative decline in applications. Longtime observers of the College will recall ex-Trustee Peter Fahey’s evocation of a downward death spiral.

Addendum: We have never been fans of recently dismissed Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris ‘84, but let’s be fair-minded, too: people in sales are limited by the quality of the goods that they have to sell. The Trustees and our Presidents dealt Maria a weak hand for years.

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