Verbum Ultimum: Reassessing Recruitment

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 1/5/12 11:00pm

When admitting recruited athletes, Ivy League institutions perpetually struggle to balance the demands of competitive athletic programs with maintaining high academic standards. These schools have agreed to maintain a common minimum measurement of academic qualification, below which no athlete can be recruited. Unfortunately, recent evidence suggests that Dartmouth admissions has, on average, been accepting recruits with academic records that rank near the bottom of the Ivy League, and yet these low academic standards do not correspond to athletic success for the Big Green.

Ivy League admissions offices use a metric called the Academic Index to quantify the academic credentials of prospective recruited athletes. Under this index, which takes into account high school grade point averages and SAT scores, Brown University had seven teams with AI scores below 200, the highest number in the Ivy League, while Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania tied for the second highest number of such teams with five each (Cornell University was not included in the study). AI scores range roughly from 170 to 240, and this past summer, the Ivy League raised the minimum AI score from 171 to 176, according to The New York Times.

Although these statistics may indicate that Dartmouth is merely average among its peers, the College's relatively small size means that low academic standards among athletes have a larger effect on the credentials of the student body as a whole. Dartmouth has a comparable number of varsity teams to Penn but has less than half the number of undergraduates. If the 20 percent of our student body composed of varsity athletes is characterized by questionable academic qualifications relative to our peer institutions, then it is fair to say that the academic caliber of each incoming class is being compromised to a larger extent at Dartmouth than at its Ivy peers.

We fully acknowledge and appreciate that recruited athletes contribute significantly to the richness and diversity of the Dartmouth community. Support for athletic programs should remain a priority for the administration. However, fostering academic success should be our primary goal, and the admissions office should seek foremost to ensure that every incoming student has strong academic credentials. The general admissions process has become more competitive with each passing year, as seen in the consistently rising average SAT scores and GPA of each subsequent class ("Dartmouth admits 465 in early decision," Jan. 4). The preservation of comparatively low academic standards for recruited athletes combined with increasingly talented non-athletes only exacerbates the gap between these students and their peers.

Dartmouth athletics have struggled in recent years to remain competitive in the Ivy League. In the 2009-2010 athletic season, only one of Dartmouth's 34 varsity teams won an Ivy League title. If the administration could demonstrate that this disparity has translated into significant success for the Dartmouth athletic program, then perhaps a different set of standards for recruits would be justified. However, it is obvious that admitting relatively large numbers of academically under-performing athletes has not turned the College into an athletic powerhouse.

In spite of this lack of athletic success, we hope that the College will prioritize the academic quality of each student it admits to match that of the most competitive schools in the Ivy League. It is imperative that the Admissions Office and the athletic department reassess their recruitment methods, because the only effect of our current system is an academically weaker student body.

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