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Realizing We Have a Very Bad Problem

When The D reported on the recent news of a 3.2% decline in the total number of applications to the College for the Class of 2021, it quoted without analysis Admissions Director Paul Sunde’s rationalization of the drop:

In terms of the 3.2 percent decrease in total applications, which follows a trend of decreasing application numbers, Sunde said that he did not think that the recent years’ variations have been a trend. He added that he believes the one to three percentage point differences indicated stability in the number of applications.

Let’s test that self-interested and self-justifying assertion. First off, how did we do against the other Ivies when we compare the number of applications received for the Classes of 2021 and 2020. Did the other schools, too, show “stability” (+/- 1-3%) in the number of applications that they received? Uh, no:

Ivy Applicants 2020-2021.jpg

In fact, applications to the Ivy League schools were up — with one exception. Go (down) Big Green!

Looks pretty bad, right? It seems like we performed a lot worse than every one of the other schools in the Ancient Eight. But, hey, like maybe we just had a bad year? After all, “Sunde said that he did not think that the recent years’ variations have been a trend.” Well, unlike Paul Sunde (and the reporters at The D), let’s crunch the numbers and see if there is a trend to be found in the recent data. We’ll look at the growth in the number of applications for all the Ivies over five years between the Classes of 2016 and 2021:

Ivy Applicants 2016-2021.jpg

What do you think? Between those two Classes, our numbers dropped 13.4%, and applications to all of the other Ivies without exception grew between 13.5% (Yale) and 29.4% (Penn). Sure looks like a trend to me — a very bad one.

Still skeptical that the College is in a pickle today? Maybe you think that something about Dartmouth in general — our rural location? the College’s boisterous frat life? the absence of a mascot? — would impede the growth of applications to match the other Ivies. If so, let’s look at application growth in the Ivies between the Classes of 2007-2016:

Ivy Applcants 2007-2016.jpg

Ooops. Dartmouth had the fastest growth in applications among all the Ivy schools in that period. Not that things were good. The Jim Wright rot was setting in with a vengeance, but the real world wasn’t yet aware of it. Well, it knows now, that’s for sure.

Let’s summarize the whole sorry picture by looking at annual applications to all the Ivies for the Classes of 2007 to 2021:

Ivy Applcants Line Chart 2007-2016.jpg

While its up, up and away for everyone else in the Ivy League, our reputation among parents, high school students and their college counselors is currently in freefall. Yes, Paul, there is a trend. As one of my correspondents recently noted, when talented people apply to the Ivies now, they often send in applications to only seven schools.

The real question remains: when are the Trustees going to act? Or will they allow the Wright/Kim/Folt/Hanlon death spiral to continue? We desperately need a good President (and Provost and Dean of the Faculty and VP for Advancement…). Only the Trustees can get us one.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Great post today on the College’s admissions issue. But I think the other issue is fact that we are losing out to Duke and Vanderbilt and other schools, when students have a choice.

Addendum: As does a friend of the College:

If I were to guess, I’d surmise that the Baker Library demo by the BLM kids and the administration’s commendation of the demonstrators didn’t goose applications very much.

Addendum: An another alum:

I don’t know which metrics are most important in rating colleges and universities, but I can not think of a more damning one than applicant decline especially when measured against peer institutions. Are the trustees blind or merely incompetent?

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