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Post Dartmouth to Offer Needs-Blind Admissions to International Students
Created by John Eipper on 01/13/22 10:46 AM

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Dartmouth to Offer Needs-Blind Admissions to International Students (David Duggan, USA, 01/13/22 10:46 am)

This may not be completely a propos, and perhaps relevant only to our editor and me, but our alma mater, Dartmouth College, has just announced a needs-blind admission process for foreign applicants, to parallel what it claims is applied to domestic applicants. In response to a comment made by a recent graduate, I offered the following in defense of "favoring" American applicants, at least as regards the awarding of scholarship assistance.

Dartmouth is an American college which for 245 years has received the benefit of American law (I'm not counting the 6-7 years when it was under English law). One of those benefits is that per the Constitution, its "charter" was held to be a "contract" and a state could not impair the obligations of contract (Dartmouth College case 1817, argued by Daniel Webster), which meant that the state could not take over the College when a political faction sought to do so. It was founded to educate the Indians, later termed Native Americans. By any definition, I am a "Native American," born in North Carolina, one of the contiguous United States. Educating foreign-born students runs counter to this original charter (the grantor, the Earl of Dartmouth, was England's secretary for the Americas in 1769).

One of the other benefits of American law is that donors to the College get to claim a deduction from their (US) taxable income. Although the matter is not completely free from doubt, studies have shown that a "full-boat" paying student is paying 120% of the marginal cost of his or her education. That means that 20% of the tuition (room & board are different matters) goes to educate someone sitting near him or her in class. With approximately 50% of the students receiving some form of financial aid (I understand that the College is no longer offering loans: those must be secured if at all from third-party lenders), that means that current students are deriving the benefit of American donors to the College fund or endowment, induced by some (non-trivial) tax benefit. This follows from the proposition that it would take 5 full-boat paying students to cover the tuition of a full-scholarship student. If 50% of the class is receiving some form of scholarship, that means that there aren't enough full-boat students to cover the freight of the "needs-based" students.

Another benefit of American law is a relatively easy immigration process (compared to other Western countries with top-flight educational institutions). Foreign students get special visas which can be extended for graduate work and beyond. These foreign students owe no allegiance to the United States: they can become citizens, to be sure, but they can take their high-priced education, paid in part by generations of donors, back to their home countries, with absolutely no assurance that they will take their "democratic values" with them. Included among those values is a degree of charitable giving to educational institutions unmatched in the foreign students' home countries. Or if they stay, they can take a job that might (no guarantee, but might) have gone to an American.

"Needs-blind" is a shibboleth, which over my 50+ years of history with the College, has been honored at least as much in the breach as in the observance. (The "no-athletic scholarship" rule was circumvented by having promising athletes take a "PG" year at a prep school; then they'd get a "needs-based" scholarship that slipped under the radar of the "overlap committee" which met each spring to equalize scholarships among the several Ivies given to applicants accepted at multiple schools: that boondoggle was done away with via an FTC antitrust investigation in the late 1990s). Up until recently the financial aid and admissions offices were run by the same guy (Karl Furstenberg comes to mind); now they're supposedly split with a "church-state" divide between the two. Regardless, unless "diversity, equity and inclusion" is your guiding light in running an educational institution, and the world's 17-18 year olds is your "target market," then for Dartmouth to offer admission to students from the other 180 countries on this planet on the same (financial) basis that it offers to kids from New Trier, von Steuben and Kenwood (naming three Chicago-area schools with different socio-economic demographics) is an evisceration of the principles on which the College was founded.

I suppose that I can be accused of "me-firstism": if I had to compete against deserving students from those other countries, maybe I would not have been admitted. I'll accept that accusation with this rejoinder: if I can't advocate for the "old traditions," then who will?

JE comments:  David, I received the same e-mail from President Hanlon.  It will be interesting to see if the new admissions policy leads to a significant change in Dartmouth's demographics.  Probably not much.  I have always been skeptical of claims of "needs-blind" admissions, as financial aid is a voodoo science.  A full-paying student is always going to be a more attractive option to an institution's bottom line--and there are many ways to "guess" from a kid's application.  This is especially the case for International students, who until now were usually paying the sticker price.  (One never knows the full picture, but I believe this is the case at my employer, Adrian College.)

It may surprise some WAISers that I mostly agree with your position.  With the new Dartmouth model, taxpayer money is invariably being used to pay for foreign students' education.  On the other hand, the "soft power" benefits of exposing talented youth to US institutions and culture may well be worth the investment.


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