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Phil Wants to Hear From You, Really!

As people get ready for Thanksgiving, the College has gotten around to asking for everyone’s opinion about Phil’s plan to grow Dartmouth. In an e-mail headed Seeking Dartmouth alumni feedback on the possibility of enrollment expansion, Alumni Council President Jacques “Jack” Steinberg ‘88 ( has written to the entire alumni body:

Alumni council header.jpg

Dear Alumni,

In August, President Hanlon announced the creation of a task force to explore the possibility of increasing the size of the Dartmouth undergraduate student body by 10 to 25 percent. The task force is charged with studying the opportunities and challenges of a potential expansion, and their report to the Board of Trustees will be submitted in mid-March.

When the task force was formed, President Hanlon said that regardless of the College’s decision, one thing that won’t change is what he described as the unique access students have to faculty and the ability to do research with these remarkable scholars. He added: “We pride ourselves on the bonds that are established between members of our community and we’re not going to alter this hallmark of the Dartmouth experience.”

The Taskforce on Enrollment Expansion, co-chaired by Dean of the College Rebecca Biron and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith, is seeking feedback from alumni on this important issue. It is in this spirit, on behalf of the Alumni Council leadership, that I invite you to share your thoughts directly with the task force. You can do so by emailing Comments will be accepted until December 4.

You are also welcome to share your comments with your alumni councilor at any time, or with me, at

With the holiday season soon upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a joyous and restful time with family and friends in the weeks ahead.



Addendum: A Tuckie with a head for competitive strategy shares a letter that he wrote to the Taskforce:

The proposed expansion of the Dartmouth undergraduate enrollment doesn’t make sense.

I assume that the argument in favor of the expansion is a wider base for the distribution of fixed costs. This argument is fallacious. First, a larger base for spreading fixed costs indicates that there would be less services provided per student, the historical evidence shows that this is unlikely. Second, there are very few real fixed costs in a long term plan. Many Alumni would be happy to help the College spend much less to provide the same level of support to the students.

There are a number of strong arguments against expansion. First, no tangible benefit of expansion has been identified. Second, increasing enrollment would mean admitting more students. There is no logical reason that increasing enrollment would cause more students to apply, therefore our selectivity would go down. Increasing the percentage of students admitted will push the College further down the rankings, causing a vicious cycle which will continue to erode the College’s reputation. Third, expansion of the student body will diminish the tightknit community that has always been the College’s hallmark. It is clear that larger institutions don’t have the type of community and spirit that we have. Changes like that aren’t linear, there are meaningful inflection points. There is no way to know where those inflection points are, but it is foolish to take the risk.

If we care about the College we need to maintain the current enrollment and start reducing tuition. If we announced a 5% tuition reduction and said that we would continue to lower the tuition while everyone else is raising their tuition we would get a lot of positive press. That press would increase applications, mathematically increasing our selectivity. This would create a virtuous cycle where applications would continue to increase, increasing our selectivity and ranking.

The future of the College relies on making wise decisions now and improving our situation, not thoughtlessly trying to fix bad management through expansion.

Addendum: An alumnus adds a point regarding the previous addendum:

Joe, following up on your reader’s point on selectivity, the College has struggled to reach 20,000 applicants over the past several years, while all of the other Ivies have reached the 30,000 mark with record applications year after year (with some surpassing 40,000 applicants). Dartmouth is not even back to its high of 23,000 applicants for the Class of 2016. Yale can increase the size of its class and still increase its selectivity. However, for whatever reason, the College cannot do the same unless and until it finds a way to regain its popularity among prospective applicants.

While there are more compelling reasons not to expand the undergraduate population, if the end result is to reduce our selectivity while we fall further behind the other Ivies in number of applicants, I’m afraid that Dartmouth will soon be perceived as the “doormat” of the Ivy League.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in to Jack:

Hello Jack: Thanks for inviting comment on President Hanlon’s expansion plans.

The proposed College expansion would be a dreadful mistake. Worse, it would likely be irreversible. Once the infrastructure is in place, the pressure to keep it fully occupied–or over-occupied–would be just as powerful as the present pressure to keep the campus over-stuffed. Expansion will not relieve the pressure; it will only up the ante.

One of the stated reasons for expansion is to allow Dartmouth a broader impact in the world. This thinking is laughably fatuous. No imaginable expansion could possibly make a perceptible world impact. To have a bigger impact, turn out a more impactful product. That requires better educational content and some seriously strategic thinking. Simply adding bodies and buildings is not strategic thinking.

The Dartmouth experience deeply depends on limited size and class cohesion. Just say No to the Hanlon expansion.


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