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Another Indication of Decline

A Dartmouth Parent writes in:

It is disheartening to see how the College fares in terms of desirability against the other Ivies. Parchment is far from 100% accurate, but I think it does a decent job of showing which side the pendulum is at. The figures do not lie here either. According to Parchment, the only Ivy the College wins the cross-admit battle against is Cornell. TGFC!

When my child was attending a few decades ago, Dartmouth was considered the fourth most desirable Ivy after HYP. Since then the College seems to have been on a steady decline on most fronts. What is happening?

Parchment Student Choice 2018.jpg

I chose Dartmouth over Yale, wanting a smaller, friendlier school located in a rural area, one that promised substantial interaction with professors. I later confirmed my negative opinion of New Haven versus Hanover.

Addendum: Phil worked his magic in Ann Arbor when he was the Provost there, and today students choose Dartmouth over Michigan 87%:13%. But give him time, give him time.

Addendum: An ‘18 writes in:

Just thought I’d put forward a few cents thought on your latest post. From hearsay from high school friends — and from my reading when I was deciding on schools — a major factor in deterring many students from Dartmouth (though it appeals to a smaller set) is the College’s perceived conservatism. The perception of Columbia and Brown as highly politically involved and left-wing in orientation has actually quite helped those schools, while many folks in my generation see Dartmouth as a bastion of Review types. We’re heavily associated with people like Ingraham and D’Souza, who are popularly seen (rightly, in my opinion) as odious figures rather than people like Kaling, Rhimes, Benioff, and the like, who might be more popular.

Why this is I’m not entirely sure. But I feel quite right in the statement that the idea of Dartmouth as a conservative, insular, perhaps even reactionary place is stuck into the popular imagination and is seriously hurting us with recruitment. (Again, there is a subset of students that this image appeals to, but frankly, that subset is smallish and tends to come from very specific backgrounds; you’d need to be very “yield-conscious” to exploit it heavily.)

Of course, the perception is entirely unfair. Dartmouth today is not the Dartmouth of 1932, when 90 percent of the study body, in a mock election, voted to return Herbert Hoover to the presidency against just 5 percent backing FDR. (FDR, of course, trounced Hoover by 16 percent nationally.) Dartmouth may maintain rather more ideological diversity than Brown or Columbia, which some (myself included) see positively, but nevertheless is highly left-of-center in aggregate. Nonetheless, we’re seen as conservative and backwards, and that is driving people away, including quite a few high school friends and acquaintances of mine.

Just my two cents. Not saying the College should try to embrace Brown or Columbia’s politics, just observing that in not doing so we make a conscious choice that makes us less popular with many students today. Of course, tides change; today Oxford and Cambridge’s parliamentary seats have the Conservatives third or worse, Labour and the Liberal Democrats topping the polls. In the eighteenth century many of those seats returned Jacobite MPs wishing to restore divine right and absolute monarchy; in the nineteenth, they returned resolute Tories; in the twentieth, mainly Conservatives. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back, perhaps not.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

There is some irony in today’s comment from the Class of ‘18 student…. aside from legacy admission denial, the second most popular complaint about Dartmouth is its tilt toward liberalism! This is a great observation to have… funny

Addendum: A member of the faculty writes in:

The student is probably correct that Dartmouth is perceived as being more conservative than Brown. The trick is to turn that to an advantage.

Trying to out-liberal Brown is a losing strategy. Turning Dartmouth into the one Ivy that’s truly open to intellectual diversity would be a way of building on our reputation for conservatism, while stepping away from its excesses. And no Ivy could credibly copy us — we’d have the high ground to ourselves.

Addendum: Another alumnus writes in:

I see that other people have discovered Parchment. I would note that Dartmouth has made some incremental progress in the most recent Parchment matchup figures. The percentages choosing Penn, Brown and Columbia over Dartmouth were all in the 70’s in prior years. At least we’re headed in the right direction.

I continue to believe that Dartmouth’s biggest challenge is that this generation of students strongly prefer the stimulation of an urban environment over a bucolic rural campus. In our day, Penn and Columbia were at the bottom of the Ivy heap. Today, students are flocking to those schools in record numbers. Of course, Morningside Heights is now a much safer and more desirable neighborhood than it was in the 70’s.

There is nothing we can do about our location, but the College does need to do a better job of selling it to prospective students. Of course, threatening to shut down amenities like the golf course—which plays to our strength as a rural campus—is misguided and counterproductive. And finding a strong leader who truly appreciates the unique qualities of our rural setting and small close-knit community would go a long way to help frame the conversation. The expansion effort was nonsense and should never have seen the light of day. If Dartmouth remains focused on its singular advantage — the best liberal arts education in the Ivy League — then applicants will start finding their way back to Hanover.


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