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Why Are We a Rich Kids’ School?

DCF 44 Percent.jpgIn light of the financial aid figures adduced by Michael Beechert last week (here and here), we are certainly competitive with the other Ivies as regards the amount of financial aid that we can offer admitted students (actually, given the size of the endowment, we should be more generous that most of the other Ivy schools, but then there are armies of administrators to feed).

However the question that arises is why, when the admissions dust settles each year, we end up with more full-boat kids in the student body than any other school in the Ancient Eight? As the Dartmouth College Fund ad at right from a recent Alumni Magazine points out (though that is obviously not its intention), 56% of Dartmouth students come from families wealthy enough to pony up about $300,000 — that’s after-tax dollars — so that one son or daughter can come to Hanover for four years (the sky’s the limit on multi-kid families). I’m not ashamed to be in the same bracket, but are we proud that well over half of our students come from families deep into the 1% — the highest proportion of rich kids in the Ivy League:

Ivy Financial Aid 2014A.jpg

Just to be clear, I have no problem with wealth. For the most part, its possession reflects honest achievement on the part of the people who earned it, but when a disproportionate number of students come from cossetted backgrounds (my sense is that the College is loaded with suburban kids who are the offspring of professionals), campus life lacks the perspective that poor and middle income kids bring to the mix, let alone city and rural students.

Why do we have a student body with this kind of profile? The College’s flood of early decision admits certainly plays a role — ED kids are well advised and come from a higher income demographic — though this year a greater number of early decision admits appear to be from less wealthy backgrounds according to the College’s press release:

More than half of the admitted students—52 percent—have applied for financial aid, up from 48 percent last year, and at least 11 percent are eligible for federal Pell Grants.

The number of legacies has increased in the last few years, and the number of first-generation-to-college kids has declined, factors which tamp down the number of students requesting aid. That said, both of those trends appear to be turning around.

It’s not clear what’s happening with the College’s extravagant solicitousness towards the children of major donors (the College employs a special liaison in Admissions-Advancement to “work with” wealthy families, whose donations are desperately needed to …), but needless to say, such students often have both big money and little acquaintanceship with the real world.

All in all, as I wrote the other day, the College should revamp its admissions efforts. As but one measure, on-the-ground interviewing by admissions officers (supported by alumni) would help root out the professionally polished applications of rich kids in favor of students, poor or rich, who will bring experience, leadership skills and intellectual curiosity to Hanover.

Addendum: An alumnus who works closely with students writes in:

I just read your latest piece on Dartmouth as the “rich kids’ school.” You are absolutely right. Your article goes the heart of what is wrong with Dartmouth today. I have been around the Dartmouth scene a long time, and the problem has never been so pronounced. The college’s addiction to money now supersedes everything else. A rural kid like myself from a second-rate high school would never be in the mix. The college is a much less interesting and dynamic place because of it.

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