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More About Brown (As Promised)

A few letters came in concerning our analysis of the huge cost differential per student between #12 Dartmouth and #14 Brown, which I summarized as follows:

Brown’s expenses run to $89,381/student each year; we pay out $140,382/student. We spend $51,001/year/student more than Brown. However, part of that difference lies in our extra research spending — just under $12,000/year per student). After deducting research, we still spend approximately $39,000/student/year more than Brown.

A professor writes in:

Just came across your article and wanted to point out something. The $182,118,000 number quoted under Sponsored research is actually a revenue and not expense (i.e., this number is not part of the $891,428,000 total expense you quoted)! This is the total amount of money faculty bring in through grants. So we are actually pulling in 30 million more than Brown. And this is actually lowering the expense per student/year.

My correspondent is correct that the amount of research funding is listed as revenue in Dartmouth’s P&L, but I used this figure as a shorthand for research expenses. This is back of the envelope accounting, but it is not inaccurate, absent better figures. That said, while it is conventional wisdom that externally funded research generates a kind of operating profit for an institution, outside analysis indicates that sponsored research really does not cover its own direct and indirect costs. This point has been supported to me by people at the College.

Another correspondent raises some questions:

Playing devil’s advocate here: Dartmouth has fewer students than Brown and spends more per student than Brown. Some of that difference is expected due to economies of scale. How much of the difference in spending per student IS due to that factor? How do you quantify that? Some of the costs are fixed and would be the same between both schools no matter how many students they have enrolled. One example of this would be intercollegiate athletics because they are both in the same league and have to field the same number of teams and the same number of players per team.

Some of the cost difference between the College and Brown is due to economies of scale, but it is self-evident that if we increased the number of students in Hanover from our current 6,350 to Brown’s 9,073, the cost of running Dartmouth would not drop by $80,471,000 — so that Dartmouth would then have the same operating expenses as Brown. It is true that each school has one President, Provost, Athletics Director and hockey coach, etc., but my estimate is that in the grand scheme of things, the savings of scale would be minor, and would be less important than some of the real world differences between Dartmouth and Brown: for example, Brown has 80 armed police officers on its payroll; we have 40 security guards, and so forth.

More to the point, let’s look at the number of classes offered to undergrads at Dartmouth and at Brown, statistics that are available in the Department of Education’s university Common Data Set. Classes are defined as follows:

CDS Undergrad Class Size Definition.jpg

Look at the number of courses offered by the College to its 4,307 undergrads:

CDS Undergrad Class Size Dartmouth.jpg

and by Brown to its 6,320 undergrads:

CDS Undergrad Class Size Brown.jpg

While Brown has 40 courses with 100+ students (does the College really only have four?), it offers a total of 1,149 courses, a hair under double Dartmouth’s 575. And Brown proposes 806 (397+409) different courses with under 20 students — the College has 367 (122+245) small courses.

It does not appear that Brown is scrimping on instruction. 

Addendum: I argue frequently that the College needs to reduce its non-faculty staff headcount significantly — at least by the 447 staffers added since 2010, if not by the 1,100+ people added since 1999. But where would these people find work? Look to this recent tidbit in the Valley News:

“What I hear a lot of is ‘I can’t find housing,’ ” said Amy Smith, the director of care management at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Across DHMC’s entire system, there’s about 1,000 job openings, she said, and a 30 percent vacancy rate in the environmental services department alone.

Note that this is the DHMC “system” — not just the campus in Lebanon, but still. There are hundreds of empty jobs in the Upper Valley right now: the Co-ops advertises for people on the radio, and various employment agencies are offering signing bonuses if you find a job with them. A real leader would seize this opportunity.

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