Cheng: Cut the Gelato

Take Dartmouth Home can become even better.

by Christopher Cheng | 1/4/18 12:45am

In an earlier article, I noted Dartmouth’s relatively limited international reputation. A few weeks later, the admissions office emailed the student body, recruiting students to promote Dartmouth to their local communities during the winter break. The office called this initiative “Take Dartmouth Home.” To me, it sounded perfect.

Given the vast array of student employment opportunities on campus, the College clearly believes Dartmouth students are a great workforce. They might receive little pay, sometimes just a dollar above minimum wage. At that price, the College gets Ivy League-educated individuals to film team practices, enter data into spreadsheets, swipe IDs and more. It’s a fantastic bargain for the College, since Dartmouth students have proven themselves willing to work hard for what they regard as sufficient pay. To most students, “sufficient pay” isn’t much. Consequently, Take Dartmouth Home could produce a global public relations wave of Dartmouth students lauding the College. Not only that, these students would be tremendously effective: With their pre-established connection with their communities, their advocacy on behalf of the College would be much more meaningful than that of an ordinary admissions officer.

Therein lies the kicker: With the current incentives it offers, Take Dartmouth Home is shooting itself in the foot. A gift card for Morano Gelato may be enough motivation for some students, but it may not be enough for many students who would otherwise be willing to sing praises about Dartmouth to their high schools. The admissions office is asking students not only to present the College to their communities but also undergo training and draft a report afterward. Today, in a time when Dartmouth students can earn up to $25 an hour as online tutors could be paid $100 to be trained, an ice cream gift card and a lunch just don’t cut it.

Sure, you could argue that those willing to take such limited pay for their work are those that love Dartmouth to an extraordinary extent and will do an exceptional job. It’s the old quantity-versus-quality argument. However, no matter how great a presentation in, for instance, Hong Kong is, it won’t foster any more interest in Dartmouth among kids from a place like Mississippi. In Mississippi, even a mediocre student representative would be more than qualified for the job. However, you’re unlikely to get those few Mississippians to show up to do the job if you just give them ice cream, a lunch and a pat on the back.

The problem with ice cream and a lunch doesn’t lie in their inherent value. I’m sure many were incentivized to sign up for Take Dartmouth Home and did a great job over winter interim. Their problem lies in their inflexibility. Between a Morano gift card worth $10 and an Amazon gift card worth the same, amount, the latter is arguably worth more due to optionality.

Perhaps the admissions office can take a cue from the Student Wellness Center and the University of New Hampshire. Both surveyed Dartmouth students and offered Amazon gift cards as rewards. If the admissions office were to invest the money it spends on Morano cards and lunch on Amazon gift cards instead, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more students signing up to do the job. I’d probably be one of them.

As a quality control measure, in case this incentive attracts relatively lower quality student representatives, the admissions office should require representatives to film their presentations to their high schools. They could then bring them to the admissions office for review.

Overall, Take Dartmouth Home does an admirable job using Dartmouth students to promote the College in their communities across the globe. Indeed, members of this group may have the greatest potential as the College’s advocates. They not only have a love for their school but are also informed on its latest issues. Alumni could even be recruited in the future, and there could be a contrast between students and alumni in these student-run presentations. But please, admissions office: Cut the gelato.