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Let’s get analytical about the theories flying about as to why admissions applications to the College dropped by a hefty 14% this year, when all of the Ivies were up, some of them substantially (save for a 2% drop at Harvard and a 1.5% drop at Columbia). As Bloomberg noted, 14% is the single biggest year-on-year admissions decline at Dartmouth in 21 years, and the only reduction in applicants in the previous decade other than last year’s 3% decrease. So what caused the change? The College put forth several justifications, and Dartblog’s readers have not been shy in advancing their own ideas. Let’s review the College’s thoughts first:
● Hanover’s rural location. This point was mentioned in the College’s silly press release, and Phil noted it during his remarks at the recent Club Officers meetings. Uh, Phil, this is a transparently bad explanation. For example, although Cornell is only about an hour’s drive from beautiful Syracuse, it is, in fact, almost four hours from NYC and from Philadelphia. Dartmouth is two hours from Boston. I don’t think that several thousand people only realized this ground truth last year, after ignoring it for decades.
● The cold New Hampshire winter. The winters were cold in Hanover over the last 245 years, and they were cold between 2004 and 2012, too, when the number of applicants to the College doubled. Phil, You embarrass yourself and the College when you mention this fact as an explication for institutional failure.
● The demographic shift of the American population towards the Southwest. Geez, the College might as well mention the shifting of the tectonic plates as a rationalization for the 14% drop, too. Did New England lose 14% of its population this year? Why would the slight annual movement of Americans to the Southwest affect us more than the rest of the Ivies, all of whom, I’m told, are also located in depopulating New England.
Frankly, these three explanations don’t even meet the straight-face test. You could just as well cite global warming, sunspots, El Niňo, the bad economy and the dysfunctional Congress as reasons for Dartmouth’s declining number of applications. When you have a consistent pattern of behavior under given conditions, and then the behavior changes markedly even though the conditions in question remain the same, it is a pretty good assumption that the unvarying conditions did not cause the change. Who came up with these ideas? Maria and the folks in admissions?
The only plausible explanation for such nonsense is that the above points are reasons why people, in general, might not apply to Dartmouth — that is, year in and year out, these observations might explain why people would choose to go to other schools. But they are in no way relevant to why we had a unique-in-the-Ivies 14% decline in admissions this year. Why did so many people, who would ordinarily have applied to the College this past year, not apply? That’s the question Phil and Maria should be trying to answer.
We’ll move on to intellectually valid explanations tomorrow.
Addendum: A reader wrote in to note that Phil also mentioned, “the rising popularity of pre-professional programs in the wake of the financial crisis, that may be playing a substantial role” in the decline of applications to the College. Given the College’s fine Economics department, and the fact that other Ivies have not lost applicants to such programs, we can consign this argument to the dustbin of history, too.
The Bored@Baker website takes a great deal of grief, and with good reason, for some of the opinions expressed on it, but it is also a forum for the kind of forthright comment that is unexpressible (without angry, bitter rebuke) in public at the College these days, to wit:
Here are details of the Freedom Budget.
The sanctions imposed on TDX by Dean Johnson have been slightly reduced after a lengthy series of disciplinary procedures. You can read all about it in Charlotte’s 14-page decision — a legalistic missive that took way too many people much too much time to draft, but I guess that they have little else to do in their overpaid time.
Of greater interest is the letter’s summary of the initial charges against TDX (some were determined to be groundless or unprovable for lack of evidence) . If these “violations” are the kind of thing that can land Greek houses in trouble, then it is clear the administration is on a zero-tolerance warpath against the frats. Can any house on campus not have been guilty of at least of few of these infractions within the last few weeks?
What are the houses going to be charged with next? Jaywalking? Bringing books back late to Baker? Having a College chair in a private room?
Addendum: A great many TDX alumni wrote to Phil Hanlon to protest the capricious prosecution of their fraternity. Phil responded to each of them with the same content-free letter:
The D ran a story yesterday that had to leave private-sector business executives laughing:
The payroll office and the campus finance centers are implementing the employee time management system, which transfers all hourly paid campus staff and students to an electronic platform.
Up until recently, as Dartblog described in 2010, many Dartmouth staff members would fill in their timesheets by hand, drop them into campus collection boxes, and the information on those paper sheets would then be transcribed into the College’s accounting software by a team of six diligent data-entry specialists (possibly the most boring job on the planet). Of course, the potential for error was huge, as was the potential for, ahem, inaccuracy on the part of employees who entered their own hours.
In my own business, employees swipe a card through a reader when they arrive at work, and that swipe goes straight into software that calculates their paycheck every two weeks. We’ve been using this method of recording employees’ hours since we opened the doors in 1998. Of course, the technology has been out there for much longer. ADP and Paychex are two of the huge payroll processing companies that do timesheets and produce pay checks for most companies in America.
Addendum: Yale switched to electronic timesheets a decade ago.
The D summarized grade inflation at the College yesterday, a topic that was discussed at the faculty meeting in the afternoon:
Close to two thirds of Dartmouth classes have median grades of A- or higher.
Almost two years ago, Dartblog’s Brian Solomon looked at grade inflation in a five-part series. Among other aspects of the problem, he reviewed each academic department’s grading:
Now you know why they call them the “hard” sciences.
Addendum: Look at how tough grading is in Economics (fourth from the bottom). The fact that Dartmouth’s most popular department doesn’t give it away proves that some students still have a taste for work.
Addendum: A recent alum who knows how to do research has a comment:
I’ve been a reader of Dartblog since my senior year, and I check it every day to keep up with the “current state of things in Hanover”. Thanks for the valuable insight! You mentioned in the grade inflation piece that Economics is one of the most popular majors, despite being one of the most difficult out of the ~50 possible ones.
Guess which professors tend to win the most faculty awards (about ten are awarded each year)? Pretty clear pattern to me, though I only looked at 2010-2012. A disproportionately high number go to professors who teach in the “difficult” departments. Here’s a list of winning departments:
2012: Engineering, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Biological Sciences (x2), Spanish, Classical Studies, Native American Studies, Government
2011: History (x3), Mathematics, Biological Sciences, Spanish, Physics and Astronomy, Russian, English (x2), Psychology
2010: Computer Science, Physics and Astronomy, Art History, African-American Studies, Education, Writing, Psychology, Chemistry, History, Government
These awards are determined by the Dean’s office, though. Do we have a metric to look at student opinion? Why, yes! The last ten faculty members who have won the Jerome Goldstein Award for Distinguished Teaching (voted on by the graduating class) teach in the following departments:
2013: David Lagomarsino, History (16th)
2012: Vicki May, Engineering (11th)
2011: Pamela Crossley, History (16th)
2010: Lucas Swaine, Government (8th)
2009: Andrew Garrod, Education (21st)
2008: John Rassias, French (37th)
2007: Annelise Orleck, History (16th)
2006: Edward Bradley, Classical Studies (10th)
2005: David Lagomarsino, History (again!) (16th)
2004: Kenneth Shewmaker, History (16th)
Is it a coincidence that nearly all of these are in the top third of department difficulty? I think not — but I didn’t account for relative numbers of students majoring in the subject. There sure are a lot of difficult courses being offered at Dartmouth. While we might be losing faith in the Dartmouth bureaucracy, we should not be losing faith in Dartmouth students. They didn’t come to the College to take easy classes; they came for a challenging education. I know I sure got one.
Sometimes one is tempted to lose hope for the College. The administration is so sick, such a great deal of money is wasted, and so little progress is made. But as I have said before, behind the scenes much good work goes on. Students do get a fine education from devoted, if under-appreciated, faculty members, as a current student’s Mom reports:
Dear Mr. Asch,
Thank you for your evident love of the College. I am the parent of a Dartmouth student and wanted to give you one parent’s perspective. I have had multiple other children attending other elite liberal arts college (and yes, our finances are now crazily depleted, and it hurts every day). I wanted to let you know that by far the experience of my Dartmouth student has been the best in terms of personal and academic growth.
Uniformly, my Dartmouth student’s professors have been caring and involved with my student inside and OUTSIDE the classroom even though my daughter is not a genius (nor a legacy or a development applicant). I could go on about this value-added experience (and I know there are valid issues surrounding dormitory life and the Greek system etc.), but I will keep this short, and conclude by saying, who cares about a drop in applications. In fact, I hope it was done on purpose. Why try to recruit more applications when you are rejecting almost 90 out of 100 applicants anyway — just to cause more angst and pain to 18-year-olds?.
The College on the Hill can fill its class with quality young men and women many times over, even with a 14% drop in applications (Dartmouth is rejecting so many fine applicants as it is — for example, I could introduce to you to a rejected applicant who is now at Stanford). I believe one has a more thorough understanding of the underbelly of admissions after watching several children go through the brutal admissions process as a non-legacy, non-development applicant (as my children did — it all ended up well, but the process was exasperating at best).
It is this experience that results in my lack of concern about the drop in applicants. The smaller applicant pool likely contains students who have a greater desire to attend Dartmouth, and that is for the best.
Once again, thank you for caring about the College.
From the fever swamps of the loony fringes comes the call for the College to devote itself to diversity fully and forever.
The list of demands concludes as follows:
The age of complacency and apathy toward change at Dartmouth College ends now. By March 24, 2014 (the first day of the 2014 Spring Term), the Dartmouth administration needs to publicly respond to each item raised on this document with its exact commitment to each one of its demands. We also request that, by that day, a timetable and point people are designated for the above commitments. Finally, items that require funds will have a monetary commitment in the 2014-2015 fiscal budget. If the Dartmouth administration does not respond by the indicated time, those who believe in freedom will be forced to physical action.
Curiously there is no plea for additional academic assistance for ill-prepared or failing students who have matriculated, nor any request for extra faculty resources for minority undergraduates in STEM fields.
Let’s hope that this blustering document represents a high-water mark in the College’s foolishness, something that appeared right before Dartmouth re-dedicated itself to serious education.
Addendum: The Freedom Budget does have one interesting request:
Admissions Office will increase transparency about data of applicant pool. For example, how many Black, Latin@, and Native students applied, their test scores, class, etc.
I sure would like to see those figures, too.
Addendum: One of my favorite correspondents writes in:
Most of this document is garbage, but I have say there are things in it I could get behind:
- Eradicate internal judicial processes for students that break laws; those crimes will be reported directly to police.
- There will be required exit interviews for departing faculty conducted by Human Resources.
- Create a professor of color lecture series; bring a professor of color once a month.
Addendum: Another young alum has some comments:
In reference to two of the demands the activists are making:
— Eradicate internal judicial processes for students that break laws; those crimes will be reported directly to police.
— When students and their families pay tuition, they should be allowed to decide what their “Student Activities Fee” is used for.
Not sure if they realize this, but Title IX requires that schools adjudicate sexual assault cases and not just defer to the police (though, even as a former COS member, I agree rape is a case for the police and not the COS).
Also, having served on the committee that divvies up the Student Activities Fee, I can assure you that students being able to individually choose where their fee money goes would probably lead to a considerable amount of it going to the Interfraternity Council. Probably not their goal.
I’m typically a bleeding heart liberal, but things are just getting ridiculous in Hanover.
The Atlantic Monthly has published a 15,000-word piece by Caitlin Flanagan, a former staff writer for the New Yorker, that seems to have as its goal to prove the perniciousness of fraternities (she does not cast her gaze even for a moment on sororities). The focus shifts repeatedly: how often students fall from the upper stories of frats; how the houses defend themselves against litigation; the influence that the Greeks and their alumni have on institutions of higher learning; the incidence of sexual assault (though the only example cited is of a frat house guest assaulting a freshman). Regrettably, not a statistic is to be found in the article: for example, it would be interesting to compare how many accidents occur in fraternities with how many similar events occur in dorms.
I guess that the goal of such impressionistic writing is to leave the reader with the impression that frats are bad, very bad. That assertion may well be true, but Flanagan doesn’t prove her case.
Beyond that point, why did the Atlantic’s editors devote so many pages to a rambling piece like this? Might we take their decision as an indication that there is something of an ongoing groundswell against the Greeks?
If you spend four years at Dartmouth and don’t see at least one movie at the Fairlee Drive-In, you can’t honestly say that you went to school in New Hampshire. Sitting in the warm grass watching a flick makes for a summer memory that one day will cause your children to look up from their iPhones in wonder. But only if the place survives.
The Fairlee is run on a shoestring by the Trapp family, and it seems that they don’t have enough shoestrings to afford a $77,208 digital projector. The movie studios are phasing out 35mm film in order to save money, and theaters are converting to the new technology. The Fairlee has scared up $22,100 in donations so far; they still need another $55,108. Want to help? The drive-in has a campaign going on Kickstarter, which they are running for another week. Hurry.
Note: there are only two drive-ins in the country that have an adjacent motel. At the Fairlee you can watch movies from the comfort of your own room. What will they think of next?
These old Dartmouth videos are a hoot for their view of Dartmouth autrefois, but this one is special because it was made as a collaboration between various notables: Film Studies Professor Maury Rapf ‘35 (a well regarded screenwriter, co-founder of the Screen Writers Guild, and charter member of the Hollywood Blacklist); John A. Gambling ‘51 (one of the three generations of Gambling men on the Rambling with Gambling radio show on WOR-AM in New York); and Buck Zuckerman ‘51 (later and still famous as Buck Henry ‘51 for directing films, writing screenplays, and appearing repeatedly on Saturday Night Live, not to mention creating Get Smart! with Mel Brooks).
Our young auteurs blessed their film with quick cuts, dramatic close-ups, moody and atmospheric classical music, and long sections without any narration at all, as their story follows a freshman through his first week in Hanover. Almost the entire voiceover is the text of a letter (pen on paper, no less) from the young man to his parents.
A few notes about how the College was different back then: Baker Tower was open for a casual, unsupervised visit at any time; the Bible was a required text in English 1; freshmen arrived by train in sportscoats and ties, though their trunks were shipped directly from home to their dorm rooms; and the ‘shmen wore beanies and did errands for sophomores.
Like today, new students felt lonely at first, and the film has much reassuring commentary about meeting friends and feeling a part of the College.
Addendum: Maury Rapf helped found the Dartmouth Film Society, which has declined in recent decades, at least to my mind. Back in the day DFS presented several movies each week, almost none of which you knew anything about: indy flicks, small European and other foreign movies, and classics from film history. The folks in the film society had taste, and I would often go to see movies in the confidence that they chose well. Disappointment was rare.
Back then the Nugget had only two screens (up from one, I am told, in a previous incarnation), and it showed the usual Hollywood fare. DFS today seems limited to six-weeks-later showings of first-run films, many of which have already been at the Nugget. The only vestige of the ambition to show unusual films in Hanover is the Telluride at Dartmouth film festival.
Mikaela Shiffren, the daughter of Jeff Shiffrin ‘76 and Eileen Shiffren, won a gold medal today at Sochi in the slalom. Congrats to Mikaela and to her folks, who mapped out an original training program for Mikaela that was key to her success.
Mikaela skied for most of her career in the Upper Valley and at Burke Mountian Academy. Jeff worked for many years at DHMC.
Addendum: And while we are counting Dartmouth medals, let’s not forget Gillian Apps ‘06, who now has a collection of three golds as a powerful forward with the Candian women’s hockey team.
For evidence of what is right and wrong at the College, look at two e-mails I received on the same day this week. If you need an explanation as to which is which, you are beyond the reach of my explicative powers. However do linger on the language used to promote each leadership program: one is a frothy mix of clichés; the other is tightly written and specific in its goals.
The Office of Pluralism and Leadership is often derided by students as one of the most wasteful areas of the administration:
In contrast, the Rockefeller Center (Rocky) is an arm of the College that gets things done:
I know which leaders I would follow.
Addendum: Here’s the link to the speakers in the Rocky program.
When she announced that applications for the Class of 2018 had dropped by 14%, Admissions Director Maria Laskaris ‘84 also said that our acceptance rate will be “above 11%” this year (it was 9.79% two years ago). That’s an embarrassing development, but the sting will be worse when the College’s overall U.S. News ranking dives by several places in the fall. We’ll have to wait until September to learn where we stand versus other colleges after the bad press of the past few years and the collapsing application numbers, but it’s hard to imagine that we’ll keep our #10 position (tied with CalTech).
In U.S. News’ methodology, the acceptances/applications percentage only counts for 1.5% of our total rating, but that slight difference could cost us our tie. However, beyond that, 22.5% of the ranking comes from peer assessments: the views of college presidents, provosts and deans of admissions; and a survey of counselors at top-ranked public high schools. By now there can’t be anyone in these categories who isn’t aware of the College’s string of student life scandals, the AP fiasco, and the general turmoil on campus (fly-by-night Jim Kim and the high turnover in the senior administration, the College’s overspending, high tuition and comparatively ungenerous financial aid). I could go on.
Our ranking has already been drifting lower for a good while; on average, we have dropped about one position each decade:
The trend can only accelerate now. I can’t see us being any better than #12 come the fall.
If our ranking drops, then you can expect that applications will be down again next year, and our reputation will suffer even more. Guess what that will do to our ranking the following September? On and on in the downward death spiral.
After an October 1 New York Times article detailed Dartmouth’s myriad scandals and bad press, it didn’t take a great deal of foresight to see that the College was in for a tough year in admissions. We saw it coming then, and so did the Huffington Post’s Linda Flanagan. She wrote a prescient column dated November 6 that first described the Dartmouth admissions department’s furious efforts to drum up applications, even from high school students with virtually no chance of being admitted. She then looked at the broader picture:
I decided to check with a colleague I’ll call Adam, a college counsellor at a prestigious private high school. He had a less benevolent explanation for Dartmouth’s recruiting drive. Last year, Dartmouth was the only Ivy to have a higher acceptance rate in 2013 over the previous year; it took about 10 percent of its 22,416 applicants, compared to 9.43 percent in 2012. In short, Dartmouth was the lone Ivy to be ever-so-slightly less selective last year than the year before, having received fewer applications. “Once I saw that, I guaranteed that Dartmouth would triple its marketing and recruiting budget,” Adam said.
Why does that tiny shift in selectivity matter so much, particularly given the flood of applications elite colleges like Dartmouth receive — roughly double the number of applications it took in just 10 years ago? As with most of the nonsense that drives college admissions, it all goes back to the U.S. News and World Report rankings. “Colleges are looking for applicants because it helps their U.S. News numbers,” Marilee Jones, the former Dean of Admissions at MIT, told me.
A college’s overall rank is determined by 16 measures, and three of them are closely linked to admissions: SAT/ACT scores of admitted students; their standing in high school — ideally in the top 10 percent of their grade — and the college’s acceptance rate. Colleges want those kids with the highest standardized test scores and lowest class rank to enroll, but they need lots of applicants to get their acceptance rate down. A low acceptance rate, which equates with selectivity, means many more kids applied than were accepted. “Every college is working that U.S. News algorithm, to use that algorithm it its advantage,” Jones said. [Emphasis added]
If the admissions department really did put the hammer down this past fall in an effort to boost admissions, and we still had a 14% drop, then things must be really bad out there.
The Valley News had an editorial on Sunday about the decline in applications. Its thoughtful ending:
It’s certainly appropriate for college administrators not to jump to conclusions [about the reasons for the drop in applications]. But we hope that they bear in mind that reputational damage is not always readily observed or easily quantifiable. Good reputations take a long time to build, and when they take a hit, it often takes a while for the damage to manifest itself. Almost everyone can think of a business or a product whose reputation for quality has lived on long after it no longer obtained. The other side of the ledger is that once the damage has been done, it becomes doubly hard to rebuild that reputation. So the quicker the college moves ahead with its previously announced initiatives to improve social life on campus for all students, the sooner it can begin getting the word out that it’s a place where all are welcome — from each according to her abilities, to each according to his needs.
The wise thought here is that the College is now in a fairly deep hole. Phil is going to need to take some bold steps to turn things around. Cautious half-measures won’t do the job.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…