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The Hanlon Dilution: It’s About Money

As I have written before, Phil Hanlon’s plan to expand the College is all about money — it’s a way for a President who has failed at fundraising to take in cash to finance his real ambitions: more researchers and prestige projects for the College.

Phil faced a similar financial pinch during his career at Michigan, and he responded in the same way. When I asked him in a meeting in the fall of 2013 about how he had cut costs there in the face of the 2008-2009 recession, he responded that he hadn’t cut costs at all. He said that he had balanced the university’s the books by increasing the size of the student body, thereby taking in more money.

That’s what the numbers show: in his years in Ann Arbor as Vice Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs (2007 - 2010) and then as Provost (2010-2013), the school saw a 7.92% growth in undergrads (between 2009 and 2013), with the numbers increasing every year:

Michigan Growth of Undergraduates 2000-2016A.jpg

And not only did the number of students change, but the nature of students did, too, as the MLive paper in Ann Arbor reported on February 8, 2015:

When the fall 2014 semester started at the University of Michigan, more than half of the students at the Ann Arbor campus were from outside the state. It was the first time that had happened in at least 15 years.

Of the 43,625 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs, 21,514, or 49.3 percent, are from Michigan…

U-M records show that, from 2000 through 2009, at least 56 percent of the total student population was from the state of Michigan. That figure fell to 53.9 percent in 2010. The overall percentage of Michigan residents at U-M has fallen in each of the last five years.

The move toward a higher percentage of non-resident students isn’t a trend officials are shying away from. In fact, they predicted and welcomed it with open arms — and, from a business standpoint, for good reason.

Tuition for undergraduate in-state students during their freshmen and sophomore years is $13,158. For an out-of-state undergraduate at the same class level, the cost balloons to $41,578, or more than three times the cost of what in-state students pay.
[Emphasis added]

You can do the math, but growing the size of the student body by 7.92% while decreasing the number of in-state residents from 56% to below 50% — so that far more high-paying, out-of-state students could pay over triple the tuition of in-state students — amounts to a massive increase in revenue.

But at what cost? First off, the university grew so crowded that “administrators also had to manage a housing shortage, which was a result of both over-enrollment and the closure of West Quadrangle for renovation. To ensure incoming freshman could live in on-campus residence halls, the University provided returning students incentives to live off campus.”

Obviously Phil did not do a very good job managing the growth that he initiated. In fact, the increase in the size of the student body was done so poorly that Hanlon’s successor, Provost Martha Pollack ‘79, now Cornell’s President, announced a plan to scale back enrollments less than six months after Phil left Michigan for Dartmouth:

At a Board of Regents meeting last fall, University Provost Martha Pollack expressed frustration with the University’s trend of enrolling too many students.

“We have been over-enrolling every year for the past five years and we have to stop this,” Pollack said at the time. “I’m not happy about it.”

Pollack called for a plan to curb over-enrollment…

And the university shirked on its fundamental commitment to educate students from the state of Michigan. In the year that Phil left Ann Arbor, the legislature appropriated $279.3 million to the university — a sum that might get a legislator or two upset, especially when the majority of students, after Hanlon’s changes, came from outside of the state.

Isn’t Phil now trying to do the same thing in Hanover? And what will the end result be? We can expect initial chaos. And also a diluted Dartmouth. One that has lost its soul and the very attributes that make the College a special place.

So don’t believe Phil’s nonsense about extending Dartmouth’s reach, or bringing in a more diverse student body, or following trends in higher education. The plan to increase the size of the student body is all about money. With Phil, it always is.

Addendum: An alumnus who works in consulting writes in to the taskforce:

Expanding the size of the student body is the conventional answer to the issues you are investigating, but it will further destroy the unique character of Dartmouth College.

Why not step up to the challenges you describe through creative problem solving, rather than taking the easy way out? Your stated objectives of increasing diversity, and broadening academic and non- academic offerings, indicate you have concluded you are not delivering a first rate experience to today’s student body. By adopting the “economies of scale” argument, you risk embarking upon a continuing series of expansion decisions, because there is no limit to trying to achieve economies of scale. If Dartmouth were the size of the largest Ivy University, or the size of the giant State schools, there would still be an argument to expand because no institution can deliver all experiences to all students.

The collateral damage to Dartmouth of the course you are embarked upon will be irreparable. Once you start down this path, you cannot go back.

I mourn for the loss of a unique institution - Goodbye forever to “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those who love it.”

Addendum: Another alumnus writes in:

To your point: “So don’t believe Phil’s nonsense about extending Dartmouth’s reach, or bringing in a more diverse student body, or following trends in higher education. The plan to increase the size of the student body is all about money. With Phil, it always is.”

Agreed. I assume that the diversity that Phil seeks to promote will come from admitting more international students who will not require financial aid. His revenue goals would not be met by admitting more students from traditionally underserved minority populations in the United States who, more typically, need financial aid.

And why does it necessarily follow that a more diverse student body will be achieved just by increasing the size of the undergraduate population? More than the size of incoming classes would have to change in the admissions processes to ensure that those classes are more diverse. What might have to change?

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