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Eight Valedictorians in the Class of 2016

Last month, we asked how many top honors the College would award for the Class of 2016. What was once a singular achievement for two or maybe three of the very best and brightest students has become a running joke as grade inflation multiplies the number of 4.00 and 3.99 GPAs.

Yesterday we found out: Dartmouth crowned eight valedictorians — a new record — along with seven salutatorians. No doubt all are fabulous students and people, with impeccable resumes, and my goal is not to diminish their accomplishment. But it’s hard to look at recent history and not think that something’s wrong:

Valedictorians and Salutatorians 2016.jpg

Students have not improved to this extent in less than a decade; SAT scores are flat:

SAT 2003-2015 Math.jpg

SAT 2003-2015.jpg

Rather, the increase in honors is the inevitable result of the slow but steady upward creep of grades. After all, the only difference between the valedictorians and salutatorians is a single A- (it’s always fun to find which prof gave it). Likely another large group of ‘16’s received only two A-’s or one B+ for a 3.98 GPA. While this average remains a terrific feat, the likelihood of tripping up once has gone down, as medians grades inch ever higher.

In 2013 I wrote: “How long before Dartmouth has eight valedictorians? Ten? Fifteen? I’d like to see the College’s PR team try to ignore that.” And yet they have. As recently as 2010, the Dartmouth Now press release heralded four valedictorians as a stunning achievement. We now have twice as many, and the College purposely avoids any mention of a new record.

To avoid further embarrassment, administrators must be mulling the idea of changing the manner in which the valedictorian and salutatorian honors are awarded. The College has always used a straight GPA-based system, but many schools (including Princeton and Columbia) have a committee that takes other factors into account.

Addendum: Lest we think fraternity life doesn’t produce good students, nine of the fifteen honorees were in Greek houses, including six of the eight valedictorians.

The social and hard sciences also brought home a win this year. The most popular majors or double majors among the honorees were Economics (seven), Math (five), Computer Science (two), and Neuroscience (two). This result is somewhat anomalous: grades awarded in the humanities are significantly higher than in the other two divisions.

As a result perhaps, Wall Street’s reigns continues: seven of the fifteen are headed into financial services or consulting after graduation.

Addendum: One of the finest members of Dartblog’s Baker Tower Irregulars writes in:

Inspired by Brian’s latest post, I made a visualization of the geographies of all the valedictorians and salutatorians for the past six years. It is interesting how the West Coast produces such a disproportionately small number of honorees:

Valedictorians and Salutatorians Geography.jpg

I wonder if the Admissions department is aware of the relatively poor showing by students from the West (click on the image to see it in a larger format).


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